Leverage a Unique Skill — and Jump into Another Field


By Alexandra Levit at the WSJ.

Police officer Brook Schaub felt his job kept him away from his teenage children too much. They'd be heading off to college before long, and he wanted a career in the private sector that would allow him to spend more time with them before they left the nest.

Skilled in computer forensics -- the investigation of legal evidence on computers and on the Internet -- Mr. Schaub knew the criminal-justice system inside out and felt that this experience was valuable to firms trying to get computer-forensics operations off the ground.

He began talking to consulting organizations about the possibilities. He discovered that accounting and business-services firms wanted to be able to offer these services to clients. And one, accounting firm Virchow Krause, hired him to tell it exactly what it would need to get started and to work on some trial cases. "The job turned into a new career," says Mr. Schaub.

His experience shows that it's possible to leverage a unique skill -- even an obscure one -- to jump into another field or industry.

Of course, getting started can seem daunting. First, figure out what your special skill is actually worth to a potential employer or clients, and how you have demonstrated its use in your past work.

Challenges - Actions - Results

You can use something called the C-A-R formula. "Write out all of your stories of success related to that skill," suggests Barbara Safani, career strategist and president of Career Solvers, a firm that specializes in career transition.

List Challenges you've faced, Actions you took, and corresponding Results. "These success stories are proof that you are a strong candidate for an organization that needs that skill," she says.

Speaking of organizations that need your skill, you need to find them. Start small by using Google to research related keywords. Follow this by networking with groups and associations directly related to the skill.

Ask for informational interviews -- or an afternoon coffee break -- with people who use your skill in their work and delve for details about their career paths.

'Functional' Résumé

Once you're ready to start interviewing for specific positions, create a résumé that prominently features your skill. Your best bet is a functional résumé in which experience is listed by job function or skill (you can see some samples at www.quintcareers.com).

This format de-emphasizes the fact that you are entering a new field or industry midcareer. Then, practice communicating your success stories succinctly. And when you're in front of potential employers, silently remind yourself that you have something they want to boost your confidence.

When you do turn that skill into a new career, be prepared for a period of transition. Mr. Schaub entered a world vastly different from police work. He was out of his comfort zone and skeptical about fitting in.

"Police work is more tactical and immediate, while in private business there is a lot more upfront strategy and planning," he says. He had to adjust his patience level and accept that the resources to work on a case were more limited.