My latest post in Forbes is about how to show employers you have transferable skills for a career change. I have already written a lot on career change (including an entire book with a 10-step process)
The question of proof – i.e., how to prove your skills are relevant – is a particularly popular one, and I mostly answer this question exactly as I wrote in the Forbes piece.
The gist of that post is that you need to make an explicit and direct case when it comes to transferable skills and not assume that employers will translate for you. However, as someone who has made a career change multiple times, I can think of one example where employers consistently make the leap of faith for me: stand-up comedy.
An Unexpected Foray Into Stand-Up Comedy
I started doing stand-up comedy in 2011 with no previous intention to ever do it. I had been writing a text book, which is a very different style of writing than my usual blogging, and I felt like I was losing my blogging voice. A former improv teacher whose class I really enjoyed happened to be teaching a stand-up comedy class, and I thought this would be a great way of getting back to more casual, conversational writing.
The class was three hours each session for six to eight weeks (I don’t even remember). What I do remember is that I laughed for most of those three hours and kept in touch with most people in the class – two real estate agents, an aspiring musical theater actress, a retired bus driver, a reality TV show production assistant, and more. It was a wildly diverse class.
I had so much fun that I kept in touch with my classmates, and several of us ended up doing shows together on and off for several years. In fact, I just did a show this past week which reunited me with one of my former classmates! Over the years, I have done sets at most of the major NYC comedy clubs – Caroline’s, Broadway, Gotham, Stand Up New York, and most recently West Side.
The Unexpected Benefits Of Stand-Up Comedy To My Career Change
I didn’t initially broadcast my comedy shows. First of all, it was a hobby, and I was just three years into my coaching business, trying to establish myself as a coach and business owner after a long head start as a recruiter and traditional employee. Secondly, my client base was mostly executive-level. I also interacted a lot with universities and HR professionals. Executives, academics, HR – this is a serious bunch, and I didn’t want to confuse (or scare off) my audience.
However, I found that when I mentioned that I did comedy, I always got a positive reaction. There was surprise, but in a good way, not a confused way. Doing comedy actively grew my business. I can trace a longtime start-up coaching engagement, repeat career expert guest spots with a major media outlet, and a big consulting engagement all back to comedy.
For these clients, I didn’t have to explain how comedy enhanced my work in coaching, speaking or HR. Doing comedy made me memorable and helped to differentiate me. My show invites were another avenue to stay in touch with my prospects. My prospective clients got to know me outside of doing business.
Surprise And Delight — Stand-Up Comedy Optional
In this way, stand-up comedy helped cement my career change from employee to entrepreneur and from recruiter to coach, even though I never made any case for transferable skills. What worked for me was the surprise and delight factor of stand-up comedy. Is there something you do that surprises and delights your target employers?
I once coached an international affairs graduate who was concerned about competing with the business students for the select few investment banking associate slots. Certainly, he had to be able to compete on technical ability and show transferable skills for business. However, he wasn’t going to win if he just competed on technical qualifications because he was starting behind with no MBA and no direct business experience.
Instead, he focused on developing rapport and making his interviewers invested in him moving along the process. He was very interested in gaming and researched those companies exhaustively, regaling his interviewers on the valuation of the gaming companies he followed. His excitement and passion differentiated him and clearly delighted. He beat out thousands for a handful of spots in equity research.
It doesn’t have to be stand-up comedy but something that lights you up can light up the people around you. Skills transfer, but so does energy, enthusiasm, and excitement. How can you surprise and delight prospective employers?