Smart employers should be broad-minded about skills

The CV with 20 years of the same type of experience is not necessarily the best candidate, says Helen Simmons, finance director at the Diocese of London

Helen Simmons
Helen Simmons

With the economy staggering along as it is, many people are reassessing their work lives and considering radical changes they might not have thought about a decade ago. Staying in one career for life is no longer the default position.

They say a change is as good as a rest, but there is more to it than that. With a bit of lateral thinking about skill-transference opportunities, people can hit the ground running in a totally different field. I've come across a few real-life examples of this.

Most recently, I have been blessed with a volunteer who is studying accounts while still running a market stall in east London. His ability to get up at the crack of dawn and work like a Trojan are the key skills (together with intelligence) that will see him through his studies. At the same time, he is juggling volunteering in my finance team to get experience on his CV and helping me with a lengthy (and at times dull) task, which other, less driven students have given up on.

A charity marketing director who was made redundant after 20 years took the opportunity to switch to law, hoping to represent vulnerable adults in court. She's currently taking an intensive one-year course. Knowing her well, I cannot wait to see her in action - her intelligence, her presentation style, her tendency to burn the midnight oil and her passion for social justice will see her succeed in a field in which she has no experience.

Keith left school with only one CSE in maths. He beat thousands of applicants to secure a training place as a casino croupier, where his ability with the 19 and 26-times tables gained him star trainee status. He wanted to switch from night to daytime work, so he applied successfully to become a train driver. The recruitment tests required advanced hand-eye coordination skills and the ability to focus for a long period of time - skills that he had in abundance from his casino work.

The lesson I draw is that, when we recruit, we should be broad-minded and skills-focused. The CV with 20 years of the same type of experience is not necessarily the best candidate - from now on, I am going to include at least one wild card with potential transferable skills on every shortlist. You never know what rough diamonds you might just find.

Helen Simmons is finance director at the Diocese of London

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