Transferable Skills: Yes,You’re Qualified

You want to try something new, but it’s scary. Transferable skills sound great in theory, but when it’s a major career change, it’s hard to know.

A Story of Transferable Skills

Joseph Henley was a rock star customer service consultant on my team. As we met to talk career, his passion for International relations was palpable. As I listened to his story, I knew there was only one thing to say:

“Joseph, I’m hearing your heart calling you elsewhere. I will help you broaden your experience and build your skills. But as much as I would hate to lose you, what I’d hate more is for you to not follow your dreams.”

He followed his heart, sold his belongings, and moved overseas. Yesterday, he wrote me a follow-up note. He noticed what mattered to him and found a way to leverage his transferable skills. Here’s his story.

Transferable Skills & Transformation: A Guest Post From Joseph Henley

I was eating lunch at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). My friends from Pakistan, Ethiopia, Thailand and I were discussing the protests in the streets outside the compound. The anti-government anger is seething and there is talk of a coup. The conversation tilts toward a discussion of whether the dictators throughout the world are good or evil? Though oft decried as evil, they can also bring stability to economies, order, civil services, and education.

It seems impossible that just a few months earlier I was at my desk drafting proposals for team meetings and rushing to conference calls. The world of business seems so far away from the new realities of International relations.

But was it really?

While building my career in the domestic business arena I heard many people discuss the benefit of transferable skills. Find them, nurture them and respect them. Though I have left the world of business, I now see clearly the vital importance of such inconspicuous, transferable skills.

I am grateful to have had leaders who helped me discover and build on these strengths: Notice your gifts, they’ll play well in unlikely contexts.

Soft Power/Influence – As I spend more time immersing myself in this new arena of International Relations, Diplomacy and Foreign Policy, I am reminded ever more of what the power of influence really is. Often times in a bilateral or multilateral relationship one has to tread lightly to not offend or potentially eliminate valuable global relationships, and find just the right words when there is no dotted line of direct authority.

This related so clearly to my interoffice experiences. Many times I found myself in informal arenas of influence over water cooler conversations, asides in meetings, or elevator speeches with the powers that be. This skill is uniquely relevant to my new future pursuits.

Embracing Change – Every day in business I heard about “embracing change.” We were constantly changing our approach to ensure great customer satisfaction coupled with other business results.  In my studies, I’m on the move, traveling to a new location every two months. This provides a constant refresh on my professors available for assistance and advice and new libraries or school policies to learn. For example in Vienna, Austria I had full writing center staff, library assistants, computer lab assistants plus admins for each professor giving me pretty liberal access to the help when I needed it, but here in Bangkok Thailand, my campus consists of three rooms. The ‘library’ is a bookshelf, and the ‘computer lab’ is two desktops.

This pattern of change would be difficult to adjust to but I feel my time in the world of business ’embracing change’ on a daily helps me face this with vigor.

Goals & Results – While I thought I might be leaving the roles of numbers and results behind me I soon found that more than anything this key critical element of business is needed constantly. The goals I have set upon completion of this program, but will be tangibly affected by the amount of effort I put into positive networking, experience gathering and knowledge building.

My ROI is the impact on my future.

The tour is over, and though the dictator debate is quieted for now, I know there will be many more to come. I move with my group, turning in our visitor badges, relinquishing our rights to be on International property. The world of business does not seem so far behind me in my new world of international relations and preparation for diplomacy. In fact, I smile as I note that there will be many more transferable skills to discover in the days to come.

Filed Under:   Career & Learning

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What People Are Saying

Larry   |   22 November 2013   |   Reply

What a powerful story, supporting a message that I profoundly agree with – strong values and well developed skills can be applied to good effect in dramatically different settings. Often, there is great value added because you haven’t been immersed in your new field during your development.

letsgrowleaders   |   22 November 2013   |   Reply

Larry, Thanks so much. Always appreciate your comments. This is one of my biggest learnings in life, by watching the success of others and in my own life. What makes me sad are those who have those values and are skilled, but let fear holds them back from what they really want to do.

Diane Lawrence   |   22 November 2013   |   Reply

I admire Joseph and his courage to follow his dreams. I can sense his excitement, fear and accomplishments. I wish him much success and can’t wait to read the follow up story. Thank you for sharing his story.

letsgrowleaders   |   22 November 2013   |   Reply

Diane, me too. I excited for the rest of the story. Joseph, we’re watching… no pressure ;-)

Ali Anani (@alianani15)   |   22 November 2013   |   Reply

Even though I am on a busy business trip for 20 more days I still couldn’t hold myself commenting. I have never worked all my life and in different countries for established organizations. All the time I co-worked on initiating widely different business lines. Therefore, this post resonates very well with me. Like you said, Karin, in your first comment above we need to have bold hearts to learn and re-learn. Every day brings new challenges and brave hearts can only stand up and pulsate courage and determination to move forward.

letsgrowleaders   |   22 November 2013   |   Reply

Ali, a 20 day business trip… sounds like that will be full of stories to share… looking forward.

Anonymous   |   22 November 2013   |   Reply

What an inspirational story.

Karin, your point to Larry rings close to my heart. Fear is our greatest challenge and I think it gets more difficult as we get older. Although I have a growing practice in leadership coaching, and feel confident I could grow the business if I lost my primary source of income, its a scary thought to walk away from a guaranteed paycheck when one has financial responsibilities.

Reading these kinds of stories brings me one step closer :-)

Bill Benoist   |   22 November 2013   |   Reply

What an inspirational story.

Karin, your point to Larry rings close to my heart. Fear is our greatest challenge and I think it gets more difficult as we get older. Although I have a growing practice in leadership coaching, and feel confident I could grow the business if I lost my primary source of income, its a scary thought to walk away from a guaranteed paycheck when one has financial responsibilities.

Reading these kinds of stories brings me one step closer :-)

letsgrowleaders   |   22 November 2013   |   Reply

Bill, I so agree… as we get older our situations become more complex, and our responsibilities increase. It is indeed scary… and lots to consider. It’s hard to know what’s on the other side. And it’s also hard to know how much time we’ll have. A crystal ball would be nice, in fact I’m asking for one for xmas ;-)

Lolly Daskal   |   22 November 2013   |   Reply


Thanks for sharing such a HEARTFELT story.

It takes tremendous courage to become who you really are!

Most important read.


letsgrowleaders   |   22 November 2013   |   Reply

Lolly, thanks so much. Joseph is indeed following his heart…he’s got a cool story of courage… not all articulated here… I’m excited for what he’s got going on next.

Anonymous   |   22 November 2013   |   Reply

Karin, thank you so much for sharing Joseph’s story on your blog!!!

letsgrowleaders   |   22 November 2013   |   Reply

Delighted to.

Joseph Henley   |   23 November 2013   |   Reply

Thank you each for your insightful comments. I have been continually amazed at the implications that are truly at stake with daily decisions. The world of business taught me so much and I am sure that those lessons will continue to resonate further. Just advice, tapping into your potential is really up to you. That potential looks different for each person and sometimes no one person can discover it better than you. Happy to share how easy it was for me to get motivated to invest in myself-I have benefitted from true leadership, (thanks Karin!) -the encouragement to chase my dreams with reckless abandonment, and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here!

letsgrowleaders   |   23 November 2013   |   Reply

Joseph, Thanks for taking the time to share your story. Please keep us posted as the adventure continues. Namaste.

Nancy   |   23 November 2013   |   Reply


How wonderful to hear from Joseph and his personal journey. I am inspired by his strength and courage to make the leap and fulfill his calling. I look forward to additional guest posts of his continued successes!

To you Joseph, may your holidays be filled with reflection, joy and love with those most special to you!


letsgrowleaders   |   23 November 2013   |   Reply

Nancy, I too am inspired. Always appreciate your comments.

Ias training institutes   |   27 November 2013   |   Reply

I enjoyed your blog. It’s easy to read, the content is good, and you’re an educated writer unlike most of the blogs I come across when searching on this topic. I will check back in the future and see if you have more articles. Thanks for posting this, I appreciate the information and the effort you put into your site.

letsgrowleaders   |   27 November 2013   |   Reply

Ias training, Thanks for your kind comment.

Patricia Love   |   08 December 2013   |   Reply

Thanks for sharing Karin. It’s wonderful to know that Larry is doing well and is doing what fulfills him most. I believe that every role we “play” in our lives gives us an opportunity to apply learning.


letsgrowleaders   |   08 December 2013   |   Reply

Pat, I so agree. Thanks so much for joining the conversation. Namaste.