Quintessential Careers:
Career Changers' Most Powerful Resume and Cover-Letter Tool: Transferable Skills

by Maureen Crawford Hentz

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  • The most effective technique career changers can use in their resumes and cover letters is TRANSFERABLE SKILLS, TRANSFERABLE SKILLS, TRANSFERABLE SKILLS. I recently gave a workshop specifically on this topic for career changers at the National Environmental Careers Conference. I was shocked at the number of competent, successful individuals who kept referring to themselves as "totally unqualified for a job in the environment." These were adults with four to 12 years of experience as managers, editors and engineers.

    I recommend that career changers (and only career changers) have an objective on their resume. With my clients, I refer to these objectives as TRANSITIVE OBJECTIVES. Transitive objectives are those that help a potential employer understand which skills/experience the applicant thinks are transferable. Transitive objectives usually follow a format similar to these:

    To use my ____ years of experience as a _______, ______ and_________ in an environmentally responsible research non-profit .

    Seeking a ________ position that will effectively maximize my experience in ________________________.

    For example, an accountant applying for a research position, could say:

    “Seeking a biology research position that will effectively maximize my 10 years of experience as a manager with budget and supervisory responsibility.”


    “Seeking a biology research position that will effectively maximize my experience in program and personnel management.”

    The second strategy I recommend to career changers is to use a competency-based resume [Editor's note: Also called a functional resume]. I recommend that career changers try to categorize prior jobs and volunteer positions as competencies so that the resume reviewer or potential employer can clearly see the transferable skills and experience.

    Similarly, I recommend that job seekers address the career-change issue directly in the cover letter. It's not necessary to self-disclose your long struggle with a job you hate, but rather briefly describe:

    1. what compels you toward the new field and
    2. what skills you can offer that are transferable.

    I've seen very effective resumes in which candidates say directly in the cover letter: “While at first glance I may not seem to fit your typical candidate profile, I confident that my skills in ________, _______ and ________, as well as my knowledge of _________ would indeed be an excellent match for this position.

    See also these articles:

    Be sure to use all of our Job & Career Resources for Career Changers.

    Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.

    QuintZine regular contributor Maureen Crawford Hentz, an independent career and HR consultant, has been working with career seekers for nine years, and has master's degree in college student personnel from Bowling Green State University. A popular conference lecturer, she specializes in large and small specially designed workshops for professional organizations, students and environmental groups. Her most popular career workshops address topics including: Non-Verbal Techniques To Use During an Interview; Powerful Resumes; and Interviewing Etiquette You've Never Even Thought About. She has a particular interest in job searching techniques for differently-abled candidates, new grads and career changers. Proving that you never have to settle for just one career, in addition to her consulting work, Maureen is also the director of volunteer programs and Internships at the New England Aquarium, Boston and an instructor of American culture at Showa Boston Institute for Language and Culture.