When beginning a career transition, many people work backwards. They rush to have a resume written as a first step; then, they jump into a job search, without really knowing what their most saleable skill sets are and how to position them for their career direction. This strategy is like putting the proverbial “cart before the horse.”

In my coaching practice, I’ve come across countless people using this backwards approach, who become quickly discouraged when they don’t get enough interviews in proportion to the resumes they send out. But I’ve also observed that people who get the most interviews and right-fit job offers took a step back to first uncover their top transferable skill sets to gain clarity about their career direction; then planned their career transition accordingly.

So, what exactly are transferable skills? My definition is: abilities, knowledge, strengths and talents you’ve developed through work, education and even hobbies, which can be used in future employment. Transferable skills can be industry-specific “hard skills” like operating a forklift or using object-oriented computer programming languages, or “soft skills” such as analytical abilities, interpersonal communication skills, and being a good team player.

Some transferable skills can be more portable than others, even if you decide to change careers. For example, therapists can work with clients in agency settings. But if they are looking for a new career, they may consider working in a customer service environment, where they can still use their listening skills and compassionate nature.

It’s critical to know which transferable skills fire you up and those that can burn you out. For instance, you may have good writing skills, but would become exhausted and drained if you were writing for eight hours per day. On the other hand, perhaps you enjoy training others and doing this more in your workday would energize you.

The idea is to pursue jobs where you can use the skills you’re good at and enjoy the most. In these jobs, you’ll “fire at all cylinders” and perform to the best of your ability. Even in the interview phase, you’ll project more enthusiasm, instead of being perceived as an ordinary jobseeker looking for a paycheck.

So, how can you figure out what your top transferable skill sets are? You can take an online self-assessment to gain some insights. One that I highly recommend and that I’m certified to administer is the SkillScan Career Driver.

You can also opt for “Success Factor Analysis” – an organic process I use with private clients where we analyze 10-15 of their proudest career achievements; then we distill them down into 3-8 “Key Success Factors,” which is simply a synonym for top transferable skill sets.

Whichever method you use to identify your top transferable skill sets, they will provide a solid foundation for your career transition campaign and will help you:

1. Feel more confident about what you can offer prospective employers;

2. Get clear about your most perfect career path and work you love;

3. Create compelling core content for resumes, cover letters and social networking profiles;

4. Feel more at ease when presenting your value to your network and potential employers;

5. Take control of interviews, salary negotiations and job offers.

(Side note: The Success Factor Analysis tool will be available in my soon-to-be launched “Wake Up to a Job You Love © Home Study System“)

Your top transferable skill sets hold the key to a successful career transition. When you know what those skills are and focus on career opportunities where you can capitalize on them, you’ll confidently move forward to a job you love, instead of back-pedaling in frustration.

© 2012 Joellyn Wittenstein Schwerdlin, The Career Success Coach. All Rights Reserved.

* This post originally appeared in the July 2012 Edition of Career E-News.