Friday, December 15, 2006

Same skills, different job

Too often, people fail to make the link between their existing skills
and the skills required for the job they want. As a result, they either
do not bother applying, or they apply with the view that they’ll
probably not get the position.
By the end of this chapter, as well as showing you how to prepare
for this type of question, I hope to persuade the skeptic in you that
skills are often a lot more transferable than you may realise. Once
you’ve assimilated this idea and learnt how to prepare answers for
duties that you have not performed before but whose skills you have
mastered, a whole new universe of jobs suddenly becomes potentially
available. What makes learning how to prepare for this type of
question even more important is that, unless you’re interviewing
for a job which is almost identical to those you’ve done in the past,
it is likely to be the most common question asked.
So let’s pose a question: what do a furniture salesperson and an
insurance call centre operator have in common? Using the four steps
to interview success, we can discover which skills are both available
and transferable. Before we start the process, however, we need to
work out what the overlapping skills are. In other words, we need
to link the skills and knowledge sets for what you’ve already done
and the job you’re now applying for.
Let’s say, for example, you’ve been working in an insurance call
centre where your only contact with customers has been over the
telephone and you wish to apply for a job as a face-to-face salesperson
selling furniture—two seemingly very different jobs. You will, amongst
other things, need to demonstrate how your call centre customer
service skills are relevant to the new job’s customer service
requirements. An effective way of doing this is to work backwards,
by making a list of the customer service skills required by a face-to-
face furniture salesperson, then thinking of all the customer service
skills in call centre work that are the same or similar. Table 4.1 shows
how it can be done.
Table 4.1 Applying skills from one job to another
Customer service skills for furniture

Greeting customers using appropriate
language, including body language
Inquiring about customers’ needs by posing
open-ended questions
Having a thorough knowledge of furniture
products on offer and trying to match these to
the customer’s needs
Knowing how to close a sale
Being courteous and polite to customers who
decide not to buy
Customer service skills for insurance
call centre
Greeting customers with correct verbal
language including tone of voice
Inquiring about customers’ needs by asking
questions and listening carefully
Having a thorough knowledge of insurance
products on offer and trying to match these to
the customer’s needs
Knowing how to close a sale
Being courteous and polite to customers who
decide not to buy
As you can see, even though insurance call centre operators and
face-to-face furniture salespeople work in very different environments,
there is a great deal of overlap in the skills required for both jobs. In
the above example, the only real skills difference is the fact that call
centre operators don’t have to think about their body language. The
big difference, of course, lies with product knowledge. So, in preparation
for the upcoming furniture sales interview, I’d be rehearsing all the
similarities between the two jobs and thinking of the best way to
overcome the one obvious weakness—limited product knowledge.
The next time you think it’s pointless applying for a job because
the duties are seemingly very different, you might want to try the
linking skills and knowledge set exercise before finalizing your
Using the four steps
Once you’ve worked out the skills common to the two jobs, you
can include the relevant skills under step 2. All you have to do is
transfer the information in the second column of Table 4.1 to the
step 2 column in Table 4.2 opposite. Remember, Table 4.2 is being
filled out by an insurance call centre operator who wants to apply
for a sales position in a furniture store.
Step 3: Context
Your next step is to fill in the third, or context, column of Table 4.2
opposite. However, talking about working in a call centre when you
are applying for a job in a furniture store—notwithstanding the
similar skills—is only going to highlight the differences between your
past context and the job you’re applying for. In this situation, you
need to acknowledge your past job, but as briefly as possible. Your
job at the interview is to focus on the similarities between the two jobs,
not the differences. For this reason, there’s hardly anything written
in the context column.
Step 4: Outcomes
Unlike the context column, the outcomes column can contain a
great deal of information. See Table 4.2 opposite for what might be
Putting it all together
Let’s look at a sample question and answer that might occur in an
interview for a new job with similar skills.
Table 4.2 The four steps applied to a different job with similar skills
Step 1
of position that
I’m applying for

Selling furniture in
a furniture store
Step 2
What I’ve already
done that relates
directly to the duties
listed under step 1,
including overcoming
• Greeting customer with
correct language,
including correct tone of
• Inquiring about
customers’ needs by
asking questions and
listening carefully.
• Having a thorough
knowledge of insurance
products on offer and
trying to match these to
the customer’s needs
• Knowing how to close
a sale.
• Being courteous and
polite to customers who
decide not to buy
Step 3
Current or past
Working in a call
Step 4
organisational and
• Consistently achieved
my sales targets and
regularly exceeded them
• Commended on levels
of service by my
• Never had a customer
complain about me
• Demonstrated an
ability to quickly learn
about the products I was
Question: Look, I like how you’ve presented yourself, but the fact
that you’ve never worked in a furniture environment worries me.
I can see your point. I think if I were in your shoes I’d be
thinking the same thing. In my defence, I’d like to emphasise
that I am able to bring to this job all the skills that you
require. That’s because call centre customer service skills are
directly relevant to your business. For example, I am very
experienced at greeting customers using correct language and
tone of voice; I’ve mastered the skill of ascertaining customers’
needs by asking the right questions; and I understand the
importance of quickly learning the ins and outs of all the
products I am selling and linking this knowledge to the what
the customer wants. I’ve also learned how to close a sale and
I am acutely aware of the importance of being very polite to
customers who decide not to buy because there’s always the
chance they might come back (step 2: skills).
My former employers consistently commended me on my
customer service skills. I never received any negative feedback
from customers and I always reached my targets and
periodically exceeded them (step 4: organisational outcomes).
Also, I’ve demonstrated in all my past jobs an ability to
learn about my products very quickly, so my limited knowledge
about furniture will not be a problem. The fact is, I know a
lot about furniture already. Furthermore, the reason I’m
applying for this job is because I love furniture and home
decorating. I’d like nothing more than to be able to work in
such an environment (step 4: personal outcomes).
This answer has several very positive aspects:
• The initial response was not to disagree with the interviewer’s
reservation. The interviewee acknowledged the interviewer’s
hesitation by saying, ‘I can see your point . . .’ Acknowledging
first and then putting your points forward is a much more effective
technique than just disagreeing from the outset.
• Without delivering a long-winded dissertation on customer serv-
ice skills, the applicant addressed the interviewer’s reservations
by succinctly linking all their existing customer service skills to
the job.
• The interviewee kept talk about working in an insurance call
centre to an absolute minimum.
• The interviewee highlighted the effectiveness of their customer
skills by mentioning three positive outcomes.
• And finally, but very importantly, the applicant told the inter-
viewer that they loved furniture and would like nothing more
than to work in a furniture environment. There are few things
in life that employers like hearing more than potential employ-
ees saying they love the industry.
Suggested activity: Applying for a new job requiring
similar skills
Write down the main skills and knowledge inherent in a job
(preferably one you’d like to apply for) that’s different to what you’ve
been doing. Beside them, list all the similar skills and knowledge
you have.
There are a number of skills that are common to many jobs.
Some are fairly specific (e.g. being a good listener), whilst others are
quite broad (e.g. good manager, team player). Note that many of
these skills also overlap—for example, an effective team player needs
to be a clear communicator and a good listener. On the whole, it’s
best to be as specific as possible.
Skills that are common to most jobs include:
• being a clear communicator;
• being a good listener;
• being an effective team player;
• willingness to help colleagues;
• being an effective planner;
• being a skilful organiser;
• the ability to work in a pressured environment;
• good customer service skills;
• the ability to close a sale;
• being good at dealing with angry customers;
• the ability to adapt to changing circumstances;
• being a good manager of people;
• managing time effectively;
• effective presentation skills;
• good analytical skills;
• the ability to motivate staff;
• being able to facilitate group discussions and meetings;
• being an effective negotiator;
• being a good on-the-job coach of staff;
• being a successful networker.
Suggested activity: Using the four steps
Once you’ve compared the two sets of skills, you may like to use
the four steps to capture the information you need. Then ask yourself
two or three behavioural-based questions and try answering them
aloud until you’re happy with the result.
Summary of key points
• Many people fail to appreciate the portability of their skills and
knowledge. When they’re looking for a new job, they only look at
the job title or duties, not the skills underpinning those duties.
Understanding that skills and knowledge can be portable between
jobs can open up a whole new world of career opportunities.
• Before you discount a job that interests you, list the major skills and
knowledge of that job and then beside that list your existing skills
and knowledge. If there are a lot of matches, then go for it!
• Use the four steps to help prepare your answers.

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