Q. “I’ve been a teacher. Can I transfer these skills to become a trainer or professional speaker?”
A. You’ve probably heard, “Career change is about transferring skills.” As far as I’m concerned, that’s an urban legend.
Skills transfers make sense for some jobs, such as telephone operators who become call center reps. But managers often don’t transfer skills. They join tribes.
Teaching and training both call for speaking in front of groups. There the resemblance ends.
Teachers have captive audiences. They don’t structure lectures the way a trainer will design a session, much less the way a professional speaker will develop and present a motivational talk.
Whether you join a company or offer your services as a consultant, you’ll be expected to join a tribe, with unwritten rules, norms and values. You may be a gifted writer, but some public relations jobs require a degree in journalism. A marketing or business degree won’t count.
To answer this question, think about the difference between talents and skills.
(1) Use talents to choose a life that feels meaningful.
Talents represent your natural strengths. For instance, my strongest talent involves writing. It’s something I was born with, and writing comes naturally to me.
I’ve also got a talent for identifying my clients’ hidden strengths and for solving career challenges. I don’t know where that came from. I just know my clients share how we’ve managed to solve a problem they’d been wrestling with for a long time.
Some advisers will say, “Focus on your talents. What comes easy for you?”
Unfortunately, some talents don’t lend themselves to earning a living…at least not easily. Often to make money with your natural talents, you have to combine your talents with activities where you’re considerably less talented.For instance, artists need to display their work. They need to be proactive in approaching galleries and applying for grants.
Sometimes you can hire someone to perform those activities for you, but you need to know how to evaluate that resource and make a good hiring decision.
Additionally, by the time you’re ready for a midlife career change, you’ve probably acquired skills that feel as natural to you as talents. For instance, I’m totally at home on the Internet; creating a WordPress website is a skill I’ve mastered. Conducting a consultation is another skill I’ve learned over time; now I’m confident that I can help just about any client who fits my ideal client profile: successful, professional/executive, educated, motivated to make a change.
You can also develop skills in areas where you’re not innately talented. I avoided sports and hid from gym classes in high school. Today I’m right at home in the weight room of my gym. That’s not a career-related skill (I have no intention of becoming a fitness instructor!). But the experience of skill development has carried over into many areas of my professional life.
The key takeaway: you’re rarely hired based on talent. You’re hired based on how you demonstrate that you can serve the needs of your employer or client. And that usually means translating talents to skills.
(2) Use skills to create your career makeover.
To earn a living, you sell skills, whether you work for a company or for yourself. In other words, you package your talents and get evidence that you know how to use your talents in a way that benefits an organization, group, community or person.
You have artistic talent, but you get paid for producing a work that will sell in a gallery, designing a website, or creating a knock-your-socks-off advertising piece.
You write brilliantly, but you get paid for producing articles or books on deadline in a form that meets the demands of your market.
You’re a naturally intuitive person but you get paid for helping clients make measurable changes in their businesses, relationships and/or lives.
(3) Get credentials that have meaning to the tribe you want to join.
Vaughn found his MBA didn’t count with a group of publicity executives. They valued journalism degrees.
Carla — a natural teacher — drew rave reviews from her students. But she needed a Ph.D. to get a full-time university job. To get a Ph.D., she’d need to study subjects that related only indirectly to her field. She’d write a dissertation and take exams. Her teaching skills wouldn’t be relevant till she got her first academic job.
Pete found he needed a CPA to compete for high-level finance jobs, although he was a gifted player in the stock market and he’d made money for several companies.
These scenarios show the way corporate employers typically place a high value on your degree — and sometimes where it came from. If you decide to go back to school to enhance your marketability, take the time to ask questions and study your options. As a former college professor, I’ve seen students choose educational programs that seem to offer a fast, smooth transition to a new career — only to be stopped cold because they didn’t know what to ask before investing significant time and money. Therefore, I wrote a guide to help you decide whether to return to school — and if you do, how to choose a program that could actually help you reach your dream career. Click here to learn more.
On the other hand, if you’re self-employed, your clients might not care about your academic credentials. They may not even care about professional credentials such as coaching certifications.
When I began to seek speaking opportunities, what drew a sparkle to the eyes of meeting coordinators? My Ph.D.? My years of teaching and speaking on services marketing? My media credentials?
Everything helped. But their eyes lit up when I told them I took second place at the regional level in a humorous speaking contest, sponsored by Toastmasters.
My former university colleagues would have dissed the whole idea (“you got involved in what?!”). But to my new tribe, this award had real value. Somehow I’d managed to pass an initiation rite without realizing what I was up to.
So I encourage my clients to think of the 3-step process – talent to skill to credential – and go where they’ll be valued.
Midlife career change can be confusing and frustrating, especially if you’ve been in the same field for a long time. I’ve worked with many clients to create a step-by-step realistic plan. The advantage of one-on-one consulting is that it’s adapted to you — completely — and focused on your challenges I offer a 90-minute career strategy session that can transform your career – and your career change process. If you’re serious about a career change, let’s talk!
Cathy, I wish I’d had your info on this when I was a career consultant.
It would have helped every one of my clients. I love the way you frame
it as “being a member of a tribe”. I think that is immediately understandable
to most if not all people. Great write up! And can you clue us in the humorous
speech that got you second place in the Toastmasters contest?
Hope you are getting cool weather down there,