Retooling an Automotive Resume to Show Transferable Skills

Karen Caswelch had worked at a General Motors subsidiary for 20 years. Her new resume opens new routes for her talents.


Karen Caswelch had been working for the same company for 20 years when she decided, in April 2008, to take some time off and reassess her career after her company was sold to a private equity firm.

She had been working at Allison Transmission, an Indianapolis company that had been owned by General Motors; for the past seven years, she worked as vice president of purchasing. “Once the company was sold, I decided it was time to take a step back, spend some time with my family,” she said. “Even before I left, I had people at other companies telling me, ‘Call me when you’re ready. We want to hire you.’ ”

By October, when she was ready, she contacted her network. “I was talking to a COO, very high up in a $13 billion company, and right as they were ready to hire, they had a hiring freeze,” the OpsLadder member recalled. “At that point, holey moley, what do you do?

“It wasn’t my resume that got me into talk to them because I knew them,” Caswelch said. “Up to that point, I hadn’t had to worry about what my resume looked like. I needed to start thinking about rewriting my resume. It was 20 years out of date.”
Caswelch, who does not shy away from a challenge, did what she would normally do when faced with a problem: She took charge. “I was going to rewrite it myself,” she said. “I went online to look for good resumes and use them as a model for my own rewrite.” It didn’t take long for her to admit that wasn’t the solution. “It was a total disaster,” she admitted. “I’m not a professional.”

In her online search for resumes, she came across the resume service at Ladders. She sent her resume to the writers for a critique. The note she received from one of the writers warned Caswelch she was going to be tough on her. “I’m an executive. I can handle tough, and I needed the truth,” Caswelch said. “Everything that writer said about my resume expressed the concerns I had with it. Everything they said was exactly right.

“One of the things that really resonated with me when the resume writer said of my original resume, ‘This is a resume for someone with little experience. It doesn’t capture the value of what you can bring to an organization. You’ve done so many things, your resume doesn’t capture it.’”

So Caswelch and the resume writer got to work finding what it was in her background that would that would make that value pop on the page.

Opening up options

At the same time Caswelch was rewriting her resume, she was speaking to her network about her job search. During a lunch meeting, a friend who works in the health care industry recounted a bad purchasing decision by her company. Caswelch recognized that she could have solved the problem better, and it occurred to her that her search might be too focused on her current vertical.

“I realized, ‘Wow, my skills really are transferrable,’ ” she said. “’I can branch out of heavy manufacturing.’ It became a matter of looking not at what I had done, but what my skill sets are.”

The resume writer and Caswelch talked about her transferrable skills and how to present them. “I hadn’t thought about this when I left Allison,” she said. “It was a completely new way to present myself. As I went back and forth with the writer, we talked about my skill set and what other industries could use my skill set. We worked on a resume that captures the fact that I have a skill set that is transferrable across other industries.

The value of performance reviews

“It was a lot of work to go back 10 to 15 years and then pull out what your top five or six accomplishments were,” Caswelch said. “It was probably 20 to 40 hours of work on my part, really trying to determine my major accomplishments. One lesson I learned: Keep your performance reviews. When you go to update your resume, there will be a lot of information in there that can help you describe what you did and the success you brought to the company.”

Caswelch said the whole process took about a month, in part because she worked methodically and meticulously on it. “The writer had turned around a resume in two or three days, and then I’d work on it for two or three hours at a time, kept coming back to it, re-reading it, making sure that I was comfortable with the information that I sent her. I spent a lot of time making sure that she had really had good stuff going in.

“We went back and forth a couple of times. When she gave the finished product to me, I put it away for a week or so, then went back to it and changed just two or three statements.”

Next step: looking for a job. Which isn’t so easy in Indianapolis right now, said Caswelch. “Right now, the economy is mediocre; we have a lot of foreclosures, even in an affordable housing market. There are not a lot of company headquarters; that’s part of the complexity.”

While she has spoken to her husband about the possibility of relocating, with a daughter about to enter her junior year of high school, it’s not something she’s ready to do right now. While she waits out the tough job market and toys with the idea of relocation, she continues to add to her skill set. She is volunteering at a private school, which her children attend, as the chief marketing officer.

“I’ve spent most of my career in manufacturing; this is a chance to learn marketing,” Caswelch said. “The school is re-branding itself. One of the parents on the board, a marketing professional, worked up a complete marketing plan. I am working with an ad agency to come up with a new tag line, an admissions campaign, a new Web site and more.”

For now, she said, she is going to consider herself a work in progress, as well as her resume. “I took a step back, and I’m not going to stress,” she said. “Right now, the school needs me, so I will focus on doing this work at the school. I haven’t updated my resume with this new assignment. My next step is to go back to Ladders and add this latest work to my resume.”