Using soft skills and hard skills to follow a non-linear career path

Is your career path non-linear? You're not alone. Learn more about using your skills to advance your career in any direction in this article.

A career path is like a story, and we think you'll agree with us when we say that great stories need to be purposeful and above all, they need to make sense!

In the past, recruiters and other talent acquisition professionals have sought out candidates who made a steady, predictable climb up an industry ladder in order to make "safe" choices for the companies they represent. However, today's human resources specialists know that sometimes where a potential hire has been is less relevant than what they've learned along the way and ultimately, where they're going.

With that being said, justifying your non-linear career path requires an intentional plan of action. After all, a career that takes targeted turns is not the same as one that is simply random.

In this article we're sharing ways you can leverage soft skills and hard skills to pen your own compelling story and ultimately, make a change or career pivot.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are interpersonal and behavioral skills
. Ultimately, they help you work with colleagues and aren't tied to one industry or vertical.

Some notable examples that could help you enhance your career include emotional intelligence, being a team player, a growth mindset, being receptive to feedback, adaptability, active listening and work ethic.

Others you might want to add to your candidate toolbox are curiosity, innovation, speed, communication and vulnerability.

You likely have many of these skills already, but there are always ways to improve. Communication is extremely desirable to many employers. If you're looking for a place to start, work on that first.

Pro-tip: Don't forget to include soft skills on your resume. Almost 100% of employers want to see them there.

What are hard skills?

Unlike soft skills, hard skills are earned through education, training and experience. They are your chance to prove specific competencies and can add credibility to your application as a subject matter or industry expert.

For example, here are some hard skills a search engine optimization (SEO) professional might list on their resume: search engine marketing (SEM), keyword research, specific SEO tool proficiency, social media abilities and content strategy.

The skills that are most in-demand typically depend on your target industry, but the best way to understand what ones are truly valuable is to review job listings for roles you'd like to be hired for and pinpoint areas that could be ripe for upskilling.

  • Not sure of how to use a certain social media network? Join and find out!
  • Unclear about how to build a content strategy? Take a course or ask someone in the space to mentor you.
  • Confused about how to use a specific SEO tool? Try to master it on your own time and be ready to prove it when asked.

The best way to earn hard skills is by getting in the trenches and working. You can do it!

What types of skills are transferrable?

As you can probably guess from the word itself, transferrable skills are ones that seamlessly transfer over into all professions. Some transferrable skills are also soft skills, like a previously mentioned one ... communication.

Transferrable skills can be leveraged no matter where you go, giving you an upfront competitive edge in your job search. In a previous article, Forbes called out seven specific skills that can help you move into a new job:

  • Technical
  • Communication
  • Critical thinking
  • Multitasking
  • Teamwork
  • Creativity
  • Leadership

If you are lacking in one or more of those skill areas, make sure to spend some time building your abilities as you continue your career search.

Story alignment

Now that you know the types of skills you can utilize, it's time to align them with your career story. As you move forward, there are targeted areas you should optimize to showcase all that you have to offer.

  • The LinkedIn skills section - This area is a fabulous spot to drop in hard and soft skills. LinkedIn profile sections are searchable, so recruiters can find you based on them. Beyond that the LinkedIn platform allows others to endorse you for said skills and that can lend even more credibility to your candidacy.
  • Resume skills - Including a dedicated skills section on your resume is great for multiple reasons. The first is that applicant tracking systems (ATS) often screen for specific keywords to establish an initial viable pool, but the second is simply that the area is easy for recruiters to scan. Scanability can make a huge difference when it comes to earning an interview.
  • Take inventory - To be better prepared to tell your career story, it's important to take an unbiased inventory of your current skills. If you do this honestly, it will provide you with a list of areas to promote as well as ones that you can build on to become more competitive in your chosen market.
  • Interview story - We can't underscore how important it is to practice for your interviews ahead of time. Try to throw yourself some curveballs by thinking about what recruiters might consider red flags and make a plan to counter them with real skill-backed proof. By the time you land your interview for your dream position, you'll be well-positioned to succeed (and you'll likely be less nervous too!)

Career transitions and pivots

People choose to make career pivots or transition into something new for all kinds of reasons. It may be as simple as tiring of an industry after a strong 40 years or it might be that your life has changed and given rise to new goals. Whatever the reason is, making a decisive career shift is absolutely becoming the new normal. Just prepare in advance!

What do we mean by that?

  • Tailor your resume and other application materials to your ideal role.
  • Showcase consistent effort toward change (certifications, conference work, aligned freelance work and projects in the target industry).
  • Clarify your reasons and goals and be ready to talk about them.
  • Be willing to create a plan with your recruiter or potential employer.
  • Take advantage of training, when offered.

Pro-Tip: Would you like to learn more about how employers might look at career-pivoters? Read this.

Being prepared to sell your non-linear journey is important to your career. Recently, Monster reported that 96% of the workforce is looking for a new job this year and 55% of recruiters consider job hopping to be a red flag. Don't let yourself be outpaced by the other job seekers who have their ducks in a row. Only you can tell your story, so be sure to tell it well.

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