If you're a newcomer to healthcare or are considering entering it, you may think your job history and experiences outside the field are irrelevant. You're wrong. Many of your strengths and skills -- whether they include customer-service expertise or the ability to multitask under pressure -- are probably more relevant and transferable to healthcare than you realize. A healthcare professional and two recruiters offer a rundown on some valuable transferable skills as well as advice on how to showcase such attributes during your job search.
Common Transferable Skills and Strengths
Compassion and Empathy: Tony Rush, a nurse in the orthopedic trauma unit at a major medical center in Rochester, Minnesota, was in the seminary for several years after high school but ultimately decided not to enter the priesthood. He then worked as a counselor for troubled and refugee youth before entering nursing. Rush says his seminary training and counseling experiences sharpened some of the strengths -- empathy and compassion for the poor and troubled, good listening skills, an understanding of different cultures, and a respect for teamwork -- that make him a good nurse. "If I [had] gone into nursing right out of high school I wouldn't be the RN I am now," he says.
Strong Communication Skills: Speaking clearly and listening carefully are other transferable skills that are indispensable for people who hope to be at the bedside providing quality healthcare, says Gabriel Heckt, a vice president at healthcare recruiting firm Martin, Fletcher. Clinicians must communicate effectively not only with patients, but also with physicians, managers, colleagues and patients' families. The ability to provide accurate and concise documentation is also very important in healthcare, Heckt notes. A new clinician's communication skills could have been tested and improved in many nonhealthcare job situations, such as speaking up in meetings, writing stellar memos and understanding the verbal and nonverbal language of the 2-year-old child she nannied.
Customer-Service Know-How: Rush jokes that every nurse should have worked as a waitperson before entering nursing (although he never waited tables himself). Good servers must be organized and able to multitask, as must good nurses, Rush says. More importantly, good wait staff, like good front-line healthcare workers, must provide satisfactory customer service. "Hospitals are judged on patient satisfaction," Heckt says, noting that outgoing hospital patients evaluate workers on whether they were "friendly/not friendly," "helpful/not helpful" and other measures. Candidates for clinical positions often set themselves apart if they can demonstrate that they provided good customer service in a restaurant or "in an office when seven phones were ringing and you had to greet people," Heckt says.
Grace Under Pressure: Healthcare organizations are usually overjoyed to employ people with military backgrounds. Veterans who have been on the front lines of a war or conflict have undoubtedly accumulated skills transferable to a fast-paced, high-stakes healthcare job. "Obviously time is of the essence, and they've had to quickly think on their feet," says Douglas C. Ansary, Arizona regional director of recruiting for Banner Health's Talent Acquisition Group. The consequences are far less dramatic in most jobs than in the life-or-death setting of the battlefield -- or emergency department. However, people with experience working in other pressure-cooker settings where their adrenaline is regularly pumping -- like the stock trading floor -- probably have a leg up when it comes to managing the stress of a healthcare environment.
How to Showcase Your Transferable Skills
Once you've identified your transferable skills, you still need to impress potential employers with them. You'll catch the eye (and prevent an employer's online application system from weeding you out) if you use keywords on your resume that showcase your transferable skills and that match the keywords in the employer's job posting (such as "effective listening skills").
Then, expect open-ended behavioral questions in an interview, since healthcare employers today generally identify behaviors important to a specific job and then try to ascertain through interviewing where and how job candidates have applied those behaviors in other jobs or through past experiences. Take advantage of the opportunity to give thoughtful answers referencing the skills and strengths you gained through previous jobs, volunteer work and life experiences that will help you in your new line of work.
Healthcare hiring managers know that if job candidates have "demonstrated behaviors in the past they will do it again in the future, and their behaviors would be applicable from one industry to the other," Ansary says. "It doesn't matter where they've come from as long as they've shown the same aptitudes they're going to use in healthcare."