Interviewing an IT Project Management candidate this week, one of my colleagues heard an answer to one of those 'standard interview questions' that made us all think.
The question was ... "Where do you see yourself in five years?"
The answer was ... "I have no idea!"
Back in the day, this may have led you to think that the candidate lacked ambition or a career plan but she went on to explain that, as the technology that made her last project possible didn't even exist five years ago, and with tech advancing so rapidly ... how could she predict a further five years into the future with any accuracy?
She concluded with, "Whatever cutting edge looks like in five years, I will be there."
She is right too. Technology is moving fast and businesses have their fingers in increasingly diverse pies. Do you remember the first Apple computer being launched? Who knew that one day you'd make calls from one that you carried in your pocket or wear one around your wrist?!
Transferrable skills have never been more important.
Only this weekend, the tech notifications that I set up on my iPhone have been buzzing with news that Dyson is looking to create 300 new tech jobs as it plans to build its first electric car by the end of the decade. Take a moment to consider that. Nissan, Tesla, Renault, BMW and Hyundai already manufacture them and now Dyson, makers of vacuum cleaners, could have an electric car on the road by 2020. If it also vacuums up the leaves from your driveway, I'm in.
This project appears to be accelerating fast. Only last September the BBC reported that "the car does not yet exist, with no prototype built, and a factory site is yet to be chosen." Half a year later Dyson are looking to take on an extra 300 team members and it seems that the site has been selected.
To me, this is a perfect illustration of transferable skills.
At the launch, Sir James Dyson showed a video of ‘Blue Peter’ from back in the 1990s. He was being interviewed by Anthea Turner about his new invention, a device that would to clean soot from the exhausts of diesel vehicles which, basically, was the cyclone from his vacuum cleaners put to use in another way.
Since those days, he has developed motors and batteries that have powered everything from his famous vacuum cleaners to Supersonic Hairdryers and now he is hoping to bring all that knowledge together and make an electric car. He has taken talent along with him on the journey too - I wonder how many who were first employed to develop a rival to a Hoover would have envisaged that one day they could be challenging a BMW?!
Transferable skills have never been so valuable.
Smart hirers are leveraging this. When considering new talent to develop their IT offer they are looking outside their own specific industry, so a food delivery logistics firm might hire a Project Manager with a background in IT at a public transport operator, a financial services business might head hunt a PM from the public sector, a fighter plane valve manufacturer may recruit from a retail chain. The point is that if your ideal candidate's thing is, for example, Agile - it doesn't matter what they last used their skills to deliver or for whom - as long as they will work for you!
Smart IT talent has also cottoned onto this and they are now job hunting in the best possible place to get the greatest return for their knowledge and experience. Talent is accessing specialist IT recruiters, as opposed to industry-specific journals or traditional job boards and getting better placement results for their specialist skills. Who better for identifying where your transferable skills could be employed in a different industry than a subject matter expert in your specialist area with a cross-sector knowledge of and access to opportunities?
The point of all this is that you don't have to know exactly where you'll be five, ten or fifteen years from now, no more than James Dyson could have realistically predicted that one day you'd be driving your kids to school in a supersized version of one of his vacuum cleaners.
To make the most of transferable specialist skills though ... whether you're the hirer or the talent ... you do need to make sure that you search in the right place.