Career Switching in the Service Sector: How to Highlight Soft Skills & Interview and Resume Tips
Are you starting to feel burned out in your current job and looking for a new challenge or higher pay? If so, it could be time for a career change. Leveraging skills you already have—knowhow you’ve gained from a service job—can make the transition easier.
Transitioning from one service job to another can be a great move since many skills are transferable, no matter how different the industries may seem.
For example, a food service worker can become a great cosmetologist because they’ve already developed a lot of patience for customers’ specific tastes. Hospitality workers may find their hotel guest service skills transferable to working as certified nursing assistants because they know how to make people feel welcome and comfortable. And the list goes on!
This guide helps job seekers navigate different service fields, discover the importance of soft skills, prepare a resume, nail job interviews, and more.
What Are Service Industry Jobs?
Service jobs are jobs where the output is a task rather than a manufactured good; these types of jobs are increasingly predominant and necessary for developed economies. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics divides service industry jobs into eight primary categories:
- Trade, Transportation, and Utilities: Related to things we need and how we get them
- Information: Disseminating information via any means (e.g., news broadcasting)
- Financial Activities: Related to financial needs
- Professional and Business Services: Supporting the functioning of business in general, including waste management services
- Education and Health Services: Related to education or medicine
- Leisure and Hospitality: Supplying places to stay, things to eat, and keeping people entertained
- Other Services (Except Public Administration): Maintenance, personal services, religious or nonprofit groups, and private homes
- Government: Government jobs of all levels
As different as they may seem at a glance, service industry jobs often have many transferable soft skills.
What Are Soft Skills? And Why They’re Critical in Service Jobs
While someone’s ability to code a computer language or clean teeth may land them a well-paying job, those hard skills are often specific to individual tasks or fields. In contrast, soft skills can transfer between jobs.
Edgepoint Learning defines soft skills as “interpersonal skills that help people get along with each other and collaborate. Challenging to train explicitly, soft skills include things like character, ability to work on a team, and overall understanding of and participation in your company culture.”
Various sources define specific soft skills differently, with some using three to five overarching categories, others listing out over 100 highly specific abilities, and even more landing in between. For instance, the U.S. Department of Labor explains soft skills as falling under the categories of professionalism or work ethic, oral and written communication, teamwork and collaboration, and critical thinking or problem-solving skills.
Here are 10 of the most often-cited important soft skills for the service industry:
- Active Listening: Active listening involves truly hearing a person by establishing trust, asking detailed questions, showing genuine concern, and verbally responding to show you’re listening.
- Adaptability: Many companies try out different methods for just about everything before landing on a long-term solution. Additionally, you may have to cover for other employees. Adaptability lets you switch gears with confidence.
- Assertiveness: This means staying calm while standing up for yourself. Avoiding confrontation can be detrimental to service industry careers because it could increase overall anxiety and stress.
- Collaboration: This involves working with coworkers and management while ensuring everyone is heard, solutions are reached, and all involved parties leave feeling okay about the outcomes even if things didn’t go their way.
- Conflict Resolution: Resolving conflicts with clients or peers and coming to a workable and peaceful resolution is essential—though knowing when to get management involved is also a good skill.
- Empathy: Being empathetic enables service industry workers to be compassionate and understand what their customers are feeling. Empathy is a skill that makes people better equipped to help others and provide services.
- Fast Problem Solving: Problem-solving is exactly what it sounds like—finding a solution to an issue before it escalates or causes undue stress. However, doing this quickly in service industries is essential, as these jobs tend to run on tight schedules.
- Time Management: Time management includes prioritizing tasks, keeping yourself on a schedule, delegating tasks when possible, and taking time to go on breaks. This skill helps workers complete tasks efficiently without increased stress.
- Verbal Communication: Being clear, concise, and empathetic when having conversations can stop problems before they start.
- Willingness to Learn: The ability to admit you’re not perfect and want to improve can help both you and your company grow.
Developing and honing these skills—and highlighting them on your resume—can make you a more desirable candidate for other jobs, even if you don’t yet have all the hard skills needed.
7 In-Demand Service Industry Jobs That Need Your Soft Skills
The service industry jobs below are often in the highest demand and require a variety of soft skills.
Cosmetologists (alongside others in the beauty industry) help people look and feel their best, which can be important in stressful times. While these are licensed professionals with many technical hard skills, the soft skills put them over the top, get them regular customers, and make the job more enjoyable.
Top soft skills for cosmetologists:
Active listening, empathy, verbal communication
Truck driving is an in-demand job experiencing a major shortage of qualified employees in the U.S. Depending on the type of role, drivers may need anything from brief on-the-job training to intensive commercial driver’s license education. All drivers need to handle fast-moving situations (literally and figuratively) and all sorts of people, and they must stay calm in dangerous moments.
Top soft skills for truck drivers:
Fast problem solving, time management, willingness to learn
Customer Service Representative
Customer service reps can work behind counters, on phones, or in other sales or customer contact positions. Most of their hard skills training occurs on the job, but at the end of the day, soft skills trump hard skills to achieve the number one goal of keeping customers happy (while maintaining their sanity!).
Top soft skills for customer service representatives:
Adaptability, empathy, verbal communication
As finances can be one of the greatest stressors in a person’s life, bank patrons may be more anxious than the average client. So, the soft skills bank tellers have are as important as their mathematical accuracy.
Top soft skills for bank tellers:
Active listening, fast problem solving, verbal communication
While all medical careers are service jobs, certified nursing assistants (CNAs) may take service to a whole new level with their extensive patient interaction. CNAs work with patients on day-to-day tasks, follow instructions from doctors and nurses, and balance an emotional connection with keeping a healthy distance from patients and their families.
Top soft skills for nursing assistants:
Adaptability, collaboration, verbal communication
Flight attendants combine the hard skills of the job with the soft skills of providing customer service and handling all sorts of emergencies—including medical ones. Therefore, flight attendant training can take weeks, just like CNA or truck driving training, and may occur on the job or via a specialized training program. Soft skills are incredibly important because of all the flight attendant job demands.
Top soft skills for flight attendants:
Collaboration, empathy, verbal communication
If you’re into health and fitness, personal training could be an excellent career for you. Personal trainers are often certified and must show a comprehensive understanding of how the body works and the mental needs of those trying to get in better shape. The mental part comes largely down to soft skills—knowing how to interact with clients to keep them motivated to push themselves and keep going when there are setbacks can make a huge difference.
Top soft skills for personal trainers:
Active listening, collaboration, verbal communication
Putting Together a Resume for a Service Job
Once upon a time, applying for service jobs just involved walking into a location, asking for an application, and filling it out. Nowadays, most applications are online and require an uploaded resume. So, you need to know how to create a relevant and professional resume to catch hiring managers’ eyes—especially if you’re switching careers.
When transitioning from one field to another (or when entering the workforce for the first time or after a long break), you should choose a resume format that allows you to focus on soft skills.
Download a sample resume to help you get started.
While the common resume wisdom is to list every job you’ve had for the past 10 years chronologically, you may want to consider a skills-based or “functional” resume instead to focus on the skills that will help you succeed in the job. These are typically formatted in the following order:
- Contact information
- Brief professional summary
- Areas of experience/skills, categorized by overarching type with top soft skills highlighted
- Work experience
- Volunteer experience (particularly if relevant to the new field)
Customize your resume for each job you apply to. If you’re, say, a customer service representative who wants to become a cosmetologist after completing cosmetology training, you should highlight your most relevant soft skills for that specific job. For example, if the salon you’re applying to is high-end, they may be more drawn in by your active listening skills. If it’s a fast-paced, low-cost salon, time management could be more desirable.
Networking and Online Presence in the Service Industry
Soft skills are at the core of networking. Whether you find an industry-related meetup or introductory class to attend or create an online persona to meet others in the field, you need to put those interpersonal abilities to work.
Your soft skills may get you noticed when networking, but your hard skills also need to be showcased. For instance, if you’re in beauty, while your communication skills could get you in the door, granting people access to your online portfolio via a link on your LinkedIn page or a QR code on your business card will give you a leg up on the competition.
Your online presence is also essential in any position where you’ll provide services. Even if you turn in a paper application, most hiring managers will Google you to see what information you put out to the world.
To control this part of your networking, get ahead of how you present yourself online. Revise your profile and get active on LinkedIn or Instagram to show what you bring to the table. Go through your social media and clean things up, too, to make sure you’re presenting yourself in the best possible light for your intended position.
How to Find Service Industry Job Openings
You can find service industry job openings almost anywhere, from signs in store or salon windows to company websites or large job boards. If you need to be trained or certified for your new career, the school you attend may also help you look for jobs.
If you’re not coming straight out of school, your first step is typically to jump on the large job boards, such as LinkedIn, Indeed, and Glassdoor. They allow you to survey the types of jobs out there currently and narrow your searches in terms of field, location, skills, and more.
However, don’t forget to do a general Google search for something like “cosmetology jobs in [location]” or “customer service jobs in [type of store]” to see what pops up. Additionally, individual company websites often post jobs that may not be available on the major job boards.
Ready to go for it? Join a professional organization related to your career—this can also be great for networking—and see what types of jobs they have listed there. The association may give you access to opportunities you can’t find elsewhere.
How to Nail Your Service Job Interview
When you land an interview for a service job, it’s time to start preparing. Prepping for an interview goes beyond making sure you look nice and know your resume well (though both of those are important!).
Be Ready for Common Interview Questions
Many companies ask similar questions during interviews, and ideally, you’re ready to answer them. While you shouldn’t have fully scripted answers, knowing what you want to say is essential. A few common questions at service industry job interviews are:
Example interview question: “Tell me about yourself.”
Tips for answering this: Don’t go in chronological order—start with a quick summary statement of your professional background. Elaborate by going beyond what’s on your resume. Though you should stay focused on the job and what you can bring to the table, show some of your personality. Mention any of your hobbies or passions that highlight your relevant soft skills.
Example interview question: “Why do you want to work here?”
Tips for answering this: Discuss what specifically drew you to this company—the research you do ahead of time can help you here. Explain how your unique combination of experience and skills can benefit the company and help them face any hurdles.
Example interview question: “Tell me about a time you had a conflict at work and how you resolved it.”
Tips for answering this: Try to think of a situation that may be relevant to this position. For instance, if it’s a customer service job, talk about when you worked with a difficult customer and how you resolved things. Don’t shy away from explaining challenges you encountered and how they impacted you—the more details you can provide, the more they’ll be able to picture you in the job.
Example interview question: “What do you do for fun?”
Tips for answering this: This question gives you a chance to show them who you are and how you use your soft skills in other aspects of your life.
Have Questions Prepared
In addition to being ready for interview questions, it’s essential to bring some of your own. You never know what may be asked or answered before it’s your turn to take the lead, so be sure to jot down questions you know you have and some general questions they likely won’t answer. Some of those unusual but valuable questions include:
Research the Company
Even if you’ve spent your whole life visiting this company or using their services, chances are you don’t know everything about their values, needs, and preferred terminology. Make sure you know:
Be ready to discuss how your skills and values fit into their company culture and express your enthusiasm for what you learned.
Additionally, research what it’s like to work for the company. Glassdoor is a good resource for this. Be sure to take reviews with a grain of salt so you can sift through and truly get insight into the employee experience.
What to Expect When Changing Service Careers
Changing between service careers can seem daunting, but don’t feel overwhelmed just yet! When you realize it’s time for a change, start by looking at your values and soft skills to determine the field you want to enter.
Once you’ve narrowed down a list, research what hard skills you need to add to your repertoire, including required certifications and licenses. Remember, many fields (such as the beauty industry) have different certification needs in each state, so be sure you have access to local information.
When entering that new field, expect challenges. You may have a different type of client, not just in needs (e.g., medical need vs. financial need) but in personality. This is where those soft skills can come in handy and before you know it, you’ll be able to work your way through every situation you encounter with confidence!