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Who Says You Can’t?

Flexibility means your skills are more transferable than you think.

You’re scanning and other online listings, looking for jobs that match your skills, but are breezing through quickly as there doesn’t seem to be much available that requires your expertise.

Or, so you think.

“Most job seekers eliminate themselves before anyone else does,” says executive coach Dennis Nagle. “The biggest hurdle many people have is the space between their own ears.”

As tough as the job market is these days, can you afford to count yourself out from any potentially good job? The trick is to become a true believer in the concept of transferable skills.

“It’s a natural reaction to read a job description and to think, ‘I can’t do that,’ ” says Nagle. “But the truth is that everyone has skills, and most skills are transferable.”

He should know. Born in Detroit, Nagle, 56, joined the Navy during the Vietnam War and worked in military intelligence before getting a job as a lumberjack. His next career move was working on a film crew. Soon, he was running a video company, which somehow led to a career as an organizational development manager at Ford — before becoming an executive coach and consultant; he’s also an instructor at Siena Heights University.

At the peak of the car company downsizing three years ago, Nagle told the story of his disjointed but satisfying career to large rooms full of people leaving jobs in the auto industry in search of what’s next.

How does someone make the leap from one seemingly unrelated job to the next?

“You listen,” says Nagle. “There’s so much you can learn if you just pay close attention.”

Keeping an open mind also is critical.

Nagle recently helped a 23-year-old with experience managing events at the Pontiac Silverdome find a position in construction management.

“Whether you’re organizing a tractor pull, Bon Jovi concert or a construction crew, it’s still project management,” he says.

Once you convince yourself you can tackle a job, the next step is convincing the employer.

“Take that job description and break it down to really understand what the job is all about,” says Nagle. “Take each bullet point and ask yourself if you’ve ever done anything like that. Unless the job is for a tax attorney or a surgeon, you probably have skills you can apply. Then prepare yourself to logically and clearly explain to a potential employer how your skills address the needs.”

As an HR veteran, Nagle has seen major changes in the hiring process over the years. “HR staffs are dramatically leaner. So much of the process is automated and filtered,” he says. Resumes are scanned electronically for key words. Many are never read.

Nagle’s advice: “Put your resume on all the job sites to make yourself feel good, but prepare to feel bad when no one contacts you. At least 80 percent of jobs are found through networking. Dedicate your job-search efforts to talking to other people — aunts, uncles, business associates. Join groups and organizations. Face-to-face definitely works. Networking works. That’s how my daughters found their jobs.”

And the next time you look at a job description thinking “I can’t do that,” remember the concept of transferable skills and the story of the Vietnam War vet who became a lumberjack, a member of a film crew, a video company owner and a manager at Ford before he was an executive coach



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