As the season of job searching approaches, I thought it would be an excellent time to speak about transferable skills and how best to market those skills in upcoming job searches. Regardless of whether or not you know the direction you want your career to go there will be times when you have to sell your transferable skills because you do not possess the traditional experience for the position. I will use myself as an example. When my graduate school experience was coming to a close I still was not certain what area in Student Affairs I wanted to pursue. I had completed internships with Academic Advising, Campus Activities and Programs, Summer Conferences, and served as a Student Panelist for conduct cases. I soon realized that a position in Housing and Residence Life would give me the perfect blend of all the experiences that I had come to love over the past two years. There was one problem, however, that I quickly realized as I prepared my resume and started applying for positions: my experiences were not the traditional experiences of a Housing applicant.
I was never a Resident Assistant (RA) and during graduate school I had only served as the Graduate Assistant to the Vice Chancellor for Students Affairs. I had completed a Summer Conferences internship through ACUHO-I but my experiences paled in comparison to the other applicants who had served as RAs, Assistant Residence Coordinators, and even as Hall Directors during graduate school. As my job search continued after graduation I found myself becoming more and more convinced that a position in Housing was not going to happen. Why would someone hire me when there were so many well qualified applicants on the market? How could I make them see that all the skills I had gained from my graduate assistantship and internships could be brought together to create a dedicated Housing Professional? After a long search, I eventually I found my fit and I am currently entering my second year as a Residence Coordinator. I am much more confident and certain in my own abilities than I was a year ago, but I know that my first job search will not be the only time that I have to utilize transferable skills to my advantage.
So How Do You Get Them To Take A Chance On You?
Many search committees favor applicants with traditional experience in their Student Affairs area, but sometimes they take a chance on a non-traditional candidate. Why is that? What makes them willing to take that chance? To learn more about what had persuaded supervisors to hire those non-traditional candidates I spoke with Larry Wray, the Executive Director of Campus Life and Dr. Uchenna Baker, the Associate Director of Residence Life, who both work at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW).
Strengths, Weaknesses, and Unique Qualities: Both Dr. Baker and Mr. Wray agreed that when looking at a non-traditional candidate they looked for the person’s ability to articulate their transferable skills and why those skills would be valuable to the position. The candidate should also be confident, but also show a willingness to learn and a curiosity about the position. Flexibility and the stamina to deal with change are also important traits that supervisors looked for in potential employees. When I was going through the job search process last year I demonstrated my flexibility and ability to adapt by highlighting the various internships I had completed in Academic Advising, Campus Activities and Programs, and Summer Conference and Event Services. Each was a brand new experience and each time I could demonstrate how I had not only adapted but exceled in the new positions. Mr. Wray also said that when serving on search committees he often looked for that “something extra” a candidate could bring to the table, whether that quality was experience with special populations on campuses, substance abuse prevention and education programs, research, social media, etc. Therefore, it is important that you know what your strengths are, what areas you will need to improve if you were to get the position, how you plan on improving those weaknesses, and what unique quality you possess that the department in question needs.
Competencies: When your experiences do not perfectly align with the preferred qualifications of a position, think about the NASPA/ACAPA Professional Competency Area. Jemilia Davis, an Academic Advisor at UNCW, said that when she was trying to make the transition from Housing and Residence Life to Academic Advising she highlighted her position as an advisor to the Residence Hall Association and her experience working with faculty through living learning communities because it aligned with the competencies required of an academic advisor. Another helpful tip is to create a “Related Experience” category on your resume, rather than the traditional chronological order many resumes follow. You should also take the time to highlight the transferable experiences in your cover letter that you feel will best demonstrate your qualifications for the position.
As you prepare for your upcoming job searches make sure to keep all of these suggestions in mind. By knowing your strengths, weaknesses, and unique qualities you will be able to demonstrate a mastery of yourself and what you could bring to a new department. Ask others that work in those departments you are interested in to do informational interviews so you can learn what is required of them. This will hopefully help you know where you need to improve or help you discover experiences that would transfer to that position. You should also remember that sometimes, in the word of Wray, it is just about “when you hit it.” There will be times when you are an excellent candidate but other factors come into play such as an internal candidate or perhaps given the time of year it is more important to bring someone in that does not require much training. Whatever the reason may be don’t let it discourage you and keep on trying.
About the Author:
Meredith Vaughn is in her second year as a Residence Coordinator at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Meredith received her Masters in Education in Student Personnel Administration in Higher Education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She would like to thank Larry Wray, Dr. Uchenna Baker, Jemilia Davis, and Brennan Opanasenko for their suggestions and help with creating this blog.