Jan 13, 2022

How Honing Your Transferrable Skills Can Take Your Career to Unexpected Places

Career development is often linear and predictable, but by making use of your transferrable skills, you can open up a new world of possibilities.
by Serap Özcanstaff

If I look back on my career over the last 15 years, I’ve developed a breadth of experience in sourcing and procurement, climbing the ranks of various multinationals. In 2017, I relocated to Germany from Istanbul to join adidas’ Non-Trade Procurement organization. My career continued to progress, with regular increases in responsibility, expanding scope, and promotions within my area of expertise – the upward ‘chimney’ career journey.

The adidas Non-Trade Procurement team.

I was someone who always delivered, demonstrated a strong work ethic and strove for excellent results, while continuously expanding my network and helping those I worked with to develop. All of this was also enabled by supportive line managers, leaders, colleagues and peers throughout my career within procurement. Everything was going in line with my lifelong career ambitions to eventually become a C-Suite executive, leading a global procurement function.

So where am I on that journey now? Two months ago, I left the Non-Trade Procurement team and made a total career switch, taking a senior leadership position with the Corporate Internal Audit team. This is the first time in my professional career my job title does not have ‘sourcing’ or ‘procurement’ in it. This was never part of the plan – so how did I end up here?

Triggering the switch

This past year, I was part of adidas’ Local High Potential (LHIPO) program. This 12-month long development experience is aimed at identifying and developing leaders within the company who have the ability to take on more complex, demanding, and higher-level responsibilities. In essence, this talent accelerator program gets you to look outside of your area of expertise, see the bigger picture and know how the corporate machine really works, while building a community of high potential peers to help each other realize their potential.

The expertise of Serap's former team helped bring home the trophies
Tam spirit alive and very much kicking!

In the first session of the program, we were asked to talk about what our corporate end game looks like. I clearly remember the moment I told my LHIPO peers that my career was born in procurement and my aspiration was for my career to die in procurement as a C-suite executive. One year later, I was starting a new job in a totally new department that was outside of my comfort zone and where I had no track record of experience. So why did I stop my ‘chimney’ career path upwards within procurement?

I realized that no one could take away my proven track record within procurement and that I could continue to learn so much more by moving outside of my comfort zone, bringing my transferrable skills to somewhere else that could benefit from them.

"I recognized that a corporate career journey does not have to be a ladder, but more so a jungle gym."

Do you want to break out of the status quo? Here are some things you might want to consider when making that cross-functional career move.

Ask for more and showcase your transferrable skills

Since I joined adidas, each and every year I have extended my responsibilities and my scope. If there is one thing that I can advise is building the habit of raising your hand for stretch assignments and coupling it with strong business results. Working outside of your existing bubble shows that you’re capable of working in different areas and is something will be acknowledged by those who can enable your future cross-functional move.

Raising my hand and being able to manage multiple categories and stakeholders has helped me to build on my transferrable skills that could be taken to the other functions. Increasing the variety of tasks and your visibility will provide a solid foundation for the future. I joined as a senior manager in August 2017 leading creative agency procurement. Within six months – and supported by my line manager – I started to lead media, which is one of the most strategic categories of our procurement organization, before adding Global Retail procurement to my responsibilities.

"Increasing the variety of tasks and your visibility will provide a solid foundation for the future."

Asking for more is not being selfish. Raising your hand is a great sign of caring your business and putting yourself out there. And I believe in not being apologetic about asking for what we deserve, whether that’s more responsibility, support, financial reward, recognition or respect.

As you raise your hand for critical assignments, the most important point is not leaving your team behind. Use every opportunity to evaluate, coach, upskill, build confidence and reskill them. If it is only about you and your career and if it is only about managing up, hitting the wall is inevitable.

Moving to a new team in a new area requires everyone to pull together.Moving to a new team in a new area requires everyone to pull together.

Learn from others

Working with mentors outside of my area of work helped me in my professional progress and enabled my cross-functional move. My eyes were opened to other areas of the business and increased my understanding of how things connect. I believe that whatever level you are at, having a mentor (or mentors) to guide you will always give you enhanced perspectives.

I’ve always had great mentors throughout my career, and I am also very intentional about keeping those relationships and nurturing them. Some mentors saw potential and picked me, whereas others I targeted and initiated the relationship. The mentors that I’ve approached had the characteristics that I aspired to develop, or a specific trait I admired. By having a cultivated network of mentors, I was the beneficiary of their wisdom, experience, support and encouragement from these trusted advisors before taking the decision to pursue a new role outside my comfort zone.

"The mentors that I’ve approached had the characteristics that I aspired to develop, or a specific trait I admired."

So now, with enhanced skills and visibility, learnings from inspirational leaders and an expanded professional network, you’re ready to take the leap of faith…

Redefine the status quo and apply your transferrable skills

Serap with her new boss, Jonathan Cavalier.

I would like to encourage anyone who is thinking about a cross-functional career move to go for it!
Before you do, make sure you can clearly explain your rationale, and showcase the specific transferrable skills you can bring to a new department, a new team, and a new role.

Unfortunately, so many senior executives are still looking for deep functional expertise while hiring their senior leaders. At adidas, we are challenging the status quo and creating an environment for upskilling and reskilling ourselves for the future and breaking down the barriers when it comes to cross-functional career development.

In my case, the Chief Audit Officer decided to open the door wide open for an employee without an internal audit background, welcoming me into his team for my transferrable skills and capabilities. When I saw a leader that was ready to open the door for me, I was also brave enough to walk through it. When I joined the team, I was welcomed warmly and with compassion by a group of people with amazing experiences and diversity of thought. They’re ready to upskill me and bring me into their world, and at the same time, they are open to learn from me and my career experiences.

"When I saw a leader that was ready to open the door for me, I was also brave enough to walk through it. "

Feeling comfortable with the uncomfortable and embracing the uncertainty is not always easy to handle. I have moved to a space which is outside of my core expertise, and it had given me so many butterflies in the first few weeks. But as one of the leaders that I look up to at adidas said, ‘those butterflies would give me the wings soon!’

As Robert Frost wrote beautifully in his poem: “two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less travelled by, and that had made all the difference.”

I certainly believe I took the right road and I hope you do the same!