Honing in on your transferable skills

by Anne Deeter Gallaher

August 16, 2017

As featured on Central Penn Business Journal

Anne Deeter Gallaher started her own business at age 40.

Women in Leadership (WIL) asked her to share some of her insight in taking the step from being a stay-at-home mom to starting and growing her own marketing business, and becoming a published author. 

Here is what she shared with WIL.

What do you define as a transferable skill?

Deeter Gallaher: Transferable skills are experiences, talents, and traits a person leverages from one career to another, or from one position to a new position, or from one season of life to a new opportunity. I include "experiences" in the definition, because often we limit ourselves to skills as defined by areas we are certified in or degrees we have obtained. As a stay-at-home mother for years, I had developed strong skills in organization, time management and leadership — these are tremendously transferable into the workplace irrespective of a college degree in business management or organizational leadership.

What are some key ways we can identify our own transferable skills? Once we identify them, how do we market ourselves?

Deeter Gallaher: First, take time for introspection. What are you good at? Define your natural skills and talents. What do people depend on you for? StrengthsFinder 2.0 is a good resource to help you discover your talents and natural strengths. Once you answer these, it's helpful to talk with a colleague, friend or spouse about the skills they see prominent in your life. Are you often tapped for leadership positions in the community? Are you good at organizing events, do you have an influential network, are you a natural connector, are you detail-oriented? Are you calm in a crisis; are you an idea generator?

Ask your friends to answer this question about you: "When I think of (your name), I think of ___." For me, I hope they say high gear. The answers will provide a foundation of what your recognized skills are.

Now you can explore how these skills can be transferred and marketed to disparate industries or new careers.

Marketing your transferable skills is similar to marketing for companies. Work backwards: Define the goal and target audience. Are you applying for a new job or negotiating for a promotion? What does the company need? Make sure your skills are part of a solution. When you are thinking about talents, don't underestimate the soft skills — personality, positivity, friendliness, collaborative spirit, kindness, humility. They can win the day. Make sure these characteristics shine.

Any client examples to share where you were able to show them that this particular skill will work well in other areas of work?

Deeter Gallaher: In "Women in High Gear," I tell the story of starting my own business at age 40. I had off-ramped for 15 years and was re-entering the workforce as a business owner. I had zero experience as an entrepreneur or in running a business, so I had to discover and depend on my transferable skills to pitch and acquire clients. I spent years leading initiatives, starting programs, and organizing events as a mother of three active boys, and now the difference was it was going to be for clients and it was going to be billable.

If you've led Vacation Bible School for 120 children and secured 50 adults to volunteer for 3 hours each evening after working all day, then you have persuasion skills and organizational skills. If you can keep 10 elementary school boys active and interested in Cub Scouts and bridge them to Boy Scouts, then you have marketing skills. If you can get children to bed on time, you have negotiating skills.

I drew on my experiences in the community and school district as part of my initial business marketing plan 17 years ago. Take time to discover your strengths. Don't walk into an interview or potential client meeting and wait for them to recognize what your skills are. Craft a compelling story combining purpose and passion and be the solution they need.

Good communication skills are a powerful example of transferable skills. If you have mastered the art of language— whether it's on Twitter, in an email, in a speech, or in a thank you note — then you can use that skill to add value in any industry. Persuading someone to be a Cub Scout leader requires the same skill to persuade a CEO to invest in corporate marketing or public relations.

At age 40 you took a giant step in starting your own business. How important was it to identify your transferable skills? What were they?

Deeter Gallaher: When you start a business, you have to be comfortable being your own marketer and your own PR professional. There's no business advantage in being a best-kept secret. I didn't have 20 years to figure out the art of doing business, so I had to jump in the deep end and find my way. One of my favorite business quotes is from Jonathan Winters and it's hanging in my office: "If your ship doesn’t come in, swim to it." You cannot wait to be noticed, or expect clients to knock on your door, or hope someone will recognize how valuable you are.

Whether you're discovering how to transfer skills or on-ramping or aspiring to the C-suite, you have to be your own personal brand advocate, create your story, and tell it to the world. Make sure your story is prominent on Google and forms a powerful digital tattoo.

My job right out of college was in the editorial offices at a nonprofit publishing house. When I re-entered the workforce years later, the entire communications world had changed. To compete, you have to leverage your transferable skills. I was comfortable in leadership responsibilities in the community, and it was all transferable to business.

I had lots of big ideas and wasn't afraid of sharing them. I also knew the right people to tap to help execute the ideas. I wasn’t afraid if someone laughed at my ideas or thought they were silly. I had developed a level of emotional resilience and wasn't dissuaded from reaching my goal just because one or two people thought it was not possible. Resilience is a highly transferable and critical skill for success. Accountability, persuasion, negotiation and self-awareness are all transferable skills that the business world desperately needs. Knowing how to apply them to new careers can be life-changing.

About Anne Deeter Gallaher

I'm the mother of three sons — all grown and in their respective high gears — and started my business in 2000 with a degree in PR/journalism and a degree in English. I had no business ownership experience, but I assembled a personal board of advisers to help me find my way. I still seek their professional advice and wisdom as my business grows.

It's a fabulous time for women to start businesses and my message in "Women in High Gear" is that many people will help you find your way and discover what your transferable skills are. When small business succeeds, communities and economies thrive and that’s good for everyone! I am passionate about entrepreneurship, social media and helping people reach new high gears. Time is non-renewable, so it’s important to spend it pursuing what you love and in careers and with people you love!

I think it's important to never stop learning new skills and transferring them to new opportunities. I co-wrote both "Women in High Gear" and "Students in High Gear" with Amy Howell because I wanted to help shorten the learning curves of women who were aspiring to new leadership positions, and to students who could reach career goals much sooner with some practical advice.

Anne Public Relations Brand Strategy/Awareness Executive Positioning