It takes the average jobseeker in the UK 27 job applications to secure an interview. In an increasingly competitive job market, it can be daunting to apply for roles especially if you’ve been out of the game for a while. Career returners face some unique challenges when applying for jobs after a career break. These include being passed over for roles by recruiters who prefer younger applicants or at least those with more recent experience and up-to-date skills. This is compounded by their low self-confidence and an inability to market themselves and their extensive experience and skillset.
One FDM returner William Murphy corroborates this. After unsuccessfully applying to roles for a year following a three-year career break he admitted, ‘My salary and work expectations were getting lower and lower over those 12 months and that was very demotivating for me.’
Recent studies reveal that on average people change careers between five and seven times during their work life. So, the skills and proficiencies they pick up on one job are naturally carried forward into their next roles. Career returners in particular bring a wealth of transferable skills that can be applied to multiple roles and sectors. This is because in addition to diverse commercial experience, returners typically acquire additional skills during their career breaks.
There are many reasons to take a career break ranging from childcare duties to travelling, learning a new skill, taking time out for health reasons, exploring a passion project and more. Each of these situations provides the opportunity to develop expertise across a range of capabilities. For example – a person who takes a career break to travel could learn a new language and develop valuable interpersonal skills. Similarly, someone taking time off to care for children may develop project management experience and soft skills like empathy, active listening and time management – all highly valued by recruiters.
So, if you’ve had a career break and are considering a return to work, here are the top transferable skills that can put you ahead of the game.
6 Transferable skills to get back to work
Research and data analysis are important skills across several roles and sectors ranging from finance and IT to customer relationship management and more. Studying data to identify trends and using metrics to generate reports can help make informed business decisions. The nature and complexity of data analysis can vary based on the needs of the business and the role. However, some level of proficiency in recording, analysing and interpreting data is a great transferable skill.
Whilst certain roles may require knowledge of specific data analysis tools like Python or R, a general aptitude for and experience of using common spreadsheets like Excel can be very useful as well. You may have experience using Excel to record data and generate reports in a previous role or even during your career break.
Consider this example –
During an extended career break to bring up my daughters, I volunteered at their school and organised fundraising events like Christmas fairs, summer sales etc. This involved maintaining up-to-date records of donations and expenditures and further classifying this data to identify funds raised per year group. This helped the fundraising committee to see which activities were most profitable and plan the next year’s events calendar based off those insights.
Leadership is one of those skills that employers want to see in a job applicant even if their role doesn’t specifically require it. The ability to steer a team and mobilise them to complete a project from start to finish is a great skill to have and one that can be replicated across diverse roles.
Some of the complementary skills for effective leadership include being a good communicator able to set and delegate clear goals and tasks, being empathetic, having the ability to build relationships, providing timely feedback, motivating your team to achieve their goals and providing support when required.
You don’t necessarily need to have held an official position in a leadership role to demonstrate the relevant skills. Did you ever help a colleague who was struggling with a particular task? If your answer is Yes, then you’ve demonstrated several core skills of a good leader. By helping your colleague to complete their task you showed
- Empathy and an inherent understanding of their struggle,
- Initiative in volunteering help,
- Ability to build relationships and
- Support to help them achieve their goal
Communication is arguably one of the most important professional skills and includes both verbal and written components. Employers want to see that an applicant can express themselves confidently and are able to have face-to-face interactions with a wide cross-section of people. It is also equally important for them to be good at written communication.
So how do you demonstrate good verbal and written communication skills?
To be a good verbal communicator, you need to be at ease speaking in various situations and scenarios. Think of a time when you’ve had to deliver a presentation. Could you confidently talk through each slide? What about a time when you had to use tact and diplomacy, perhaps whilst presenting an opposing view to a stakeholder? Did you have to be assertive when presenting a new idea to the team?
These are all situations that call for effective communication; and what makes a good communicator is the ability to adapt their approach and tone as required. Industries like tech particularly value good communication skills because often those in technical roles need to provide insights to non-technical stakeholders in easily digestible and jargon-free language.
Written communication is another crucial skill for professionals across the board. Whether it’s writing emails, producing sales and marketing reports, case studies or press releases, it’s useful to be able to write in a variety of formats and for different target groups like – customers, stakeholders, media etc.
Think of all the different ways that you have used written communication in the past – it could be creating reports in your last role or writing for a local publication. What’s more important than where or who you wrote for is how well you did it. Consider this example –
Whilst on my career break I volunteered at the local library and produced the monthly newsletter sent to new and existing members with information about upcoming events and new arrivals. The newsletter had a 20% open rate and led to a 10% MoM increase in event sign-ups.
Not all roles require numerical proficiency. However, an ability to work with figures and data and interpreting patterns from stats is a useful skill to have. Common components of mathematics including problem solving, abstract thinking and forecasting count as transferable skills that lend themselves well to multiple jobs.
Numeracy skills can be developed if you have experience calculating holiday pay, making budgets, doing till counts, recording expenses to name a few. And you can use the same skills across diverse job roles. For example –
During my career break I launched my own home catering business. This involved keeping detailed records of stock and expenditure, calculating costs per order to maintain my profit margin.
The skills from this experience could translate well into a role that requires budget tracking like Project Management.
Conflict resolution is a key skill in leadership roles as well as most customer-facing jobs. Conflicts can arise when a customer is dissatisfied with your product or service and can also arise between colleagues working on a team. Effective conflict resolution is necessary to both prevent an issue from escalating as well as saving time and money for a business.
For instance, when there’s a conflict in a team it results in reduced productivity for the company. Similarly, a dissatisfied customer who hasn’t had their complaint addressed is unlikely to continue engaging with the business.
Active listening, empathy, and problem solving are some of the key traits for effective conflict resolution. Again, this is a valuable transferable skill that can be picked up from both professional and non-professional experiences. For example – you may have worked in retail and successfully helped a customer get a refund on a faulty product in a way that they continued to return to your store.
For a parent, conflict resolution is often a daily reality! Particularly with siblings who are only a few years apart maintaining peace requires listening to both children, showing empathy for their frustrations and then depending on their age and maturity either offering a solution or helping them reach a mutually acceptable compromise.
Project management roles require a mix of technical skills and soft skills to ensure the successful completion of a project. Read the 10 Essential Skills for a Project Manager. Project managers need to be able to work with and guide teams, provide feedback, see the project through from start to finish whilst sticking to budgets and timelines.
Stakeholder management, collaboration and effective communication are core competencies of a successful project manager and skills that can be transferred to various roles and industries.
Further, professionals looking to return to work after a career break almost always have several of the competencies of a project manager even if they haven’t worked in a formal project management role.
The FDM Returners Programme is aimed at anyone who wants to return to work after a career break. Our team of experienced recruiters, many of whom were returners themselves, are here to support you at every step of the way on your journey back to work. At FDM we don’t question career breaks, we welcome them because we realise: life happens.
- A fully-funded training programme
- Salary from Day 1 of training
- Opportunity to work with our industry-leading clients
- CV and interview prep
- Ongoing mentoring even after placement at client-site
So, apply to the FDM Returners Programme today and discover a world of exciting careers in business and tech.