top of page

Transferable skills: the former careers of our superstars

In recruitment we talk a lot about transferable skills and you might be surprised how many recruiters have made the most of some unlikely previous careers. It doesn’t matter what your previous background might be - dancer, cricketer or actor - certain skills are most definitely transferable.

From a career treading the boards, to dancing up a storm and bowling out Indian cricket sensation Cheteshwar Pujara, those working in recruitment are drawn from incredibly diverse backgrounds.

In this issue we speak with three professionals about what they did before they started in recruitment, how they ended up in the sector and the skills they have transferred into their new careers.

If you have had an interesting career journey to recruitment, we would love to hear from you. Drop us an email at

At just 12 years of age, Erin Devlin found herself in her first paying job. It wasn’t child labour, more a labour of love as she embarked on a career as a professional dancer.

Erin (pictured right), the Managing Director of people2people Recruitment Victoria, believes many of the skills she picked up as a dancer have been critical to her career in recruitment.

Erin explained that her career as a dancer was different from many, with dancers usually training until the age of 18 before joining a professional company.

“I was incredibly lucky to have a child role with The Australian Ballet at 12 and then moved on to picking up an adult role with same company when I was 14, which was unusual,” she said.

“It was a lot of hard work and required a lot of determination and focus and drive to spend seven years working as a professional dancer with The Australian Ballet, its offshoot the Dancer’s Company and the West Australian Ballet.

“It is both physically and psychologically hard work and although I was feeling very fulfilled at that stage, I was also physically and mentally ready to explore other areas of my life.”

Erin spent two years working as cabin crew with Emirates Airline where she had the opportunity to explore the world “in a five-star way which was really nice” before looking for something a little more À terre (touching the floor) to build a future career around.

In 2007, she applied for a temp job through Drake International and was hired by Drake the same day where she found herself working for their training division.

Erin explained that once she was approached to join Drake, she was drawn to the opportunity to “explore businesses and people and how they work”.

“I started in a customer service admin role and saw what the consultants were doing across the other side of the floor so I approached my manager and said I wanted to try my hand at that,” Erin said. “There are a lot of transferable skills between dance and recruitment. I know when we look for people to hire into recruitment, we look for people who have been successful in another field previously.

“Teamwork is also very important. When you are a professional dancer you need to have strong teamwork, whether you are dancing in a pas de deux (with a partner) or dancing in the corps de ballet (ensemble).

“That same ability to work as part of a team is needed to be successful in recruitment.

“Similarly, empathy is a transferable skill between the two. When you are performing, you need to be able to embody the character you are playing. In recruitment, you need to be able to put yourself in other people’s shoes regularly throughout the day.

“I also like that we have the chance to change people’s lives. That is so rewarding in itself.”

Cricket and recruitment have a lot in common, honestly

When Roald Badenhorst was 11, his family decided to leave South Africa and start a new life where the kids could flourish and play sport.

Roald (pictured right), an Auckland-based Senior Consultant in Civil Construction Trades with Stellar Recruitment, said his family was sports mad and looked as the US and Canada as possible immigration destinations before settling on New Zealand.

It was a fortuitous decision, which saw Roald play first-class cricket for and across his adopted New Zealand, throughout the UK and even in South Africa before a shoulder injury drove him to look at other career options.

“My family loved sport,” he said. “Dad was a top-class tennis player for Pretoria and my two older brothers were pretty handy with a cricket bat and ball and are natural sportsmen. The number one priority was to get out of South Africa and ensure we had a future somewhere safe. The second was to be able to play sport.”

The family made the move to New Zealand in 2002.

Roald, an all-rounder, played first-class cricket for eight years flitting between playing for teams in New Zealand for half the year and the UK for the remaining six months. In doing so, he managed to travel much of the world and made what he describes as a “living which wouldn’t set the world on fire but which was OK”.

Among his sporting career highlights is claiming the wicket of India’s Cheteshwar Pujara in a 2014 match and playing alongside New Zealand legend Nathan McCullum.

It was McCullum, a part-time employee with Stellar, who suggested recruitment as a possible career for Roald when he a dislocated shoulder and broke a finger and his sporting future looked in jeopardy.

“Nathan saw I had some attributes that would transfer into recruitment and suggested I try it in the off season,” Roald said. “When I was playing cricket, I didn’t think I had any real strengths outside of sport I thought I could translate into a corporate environment.

“But it comes down to fundamentals: you need to work hard and you need to be able to take constructive feedback.”

It didn’t take long for Roald to recognise that he was destined to work in recruitment. The amount of transferable skills from a professional sporting background into recruitment would surprise many people.

They include:

  • Having a thick skin to handle criticism and rejection

  • Being able to problem solve and think clearly in a pressure cooker situation

  • Strong interpersonal skills

  • Ability to communicate clearly

  • Belief and confidence in yourself

  • Ability to think strategically

“I love managing people and helping people get the most out of their career and working with new recruiters and seeing them improve and build their own careers,” Roald said.

“I set high expectations for myself when I was playing sport and I continue to set high expectations for myself,” he said.

“What I really want is to be a market leader and to build a bit of an empire.”

The whole world is a stage

Nicola Colson (picutred left) started in theatre when she was so young she can’t say when that was exactly. All she knows is her life from a young age was consumed by the arts, and acting in particular.

It was only when she started taking courses to learn how to better run her events management company and arts production business that she realised how insular her world had become and determined to change that.

Little did she know this decision would lead her to a career in recruitment where she is now Senior Manager Professional Services with Robert Walters in Wellington.

Nicola is a graduate of Toi Whaakari (New Zealand Drama School) and secured her first professional acting role at 18. She is best known to New Zealand audiences for her role in The Insiders Guide To Love. She also co-wrote and performed the stage production, The Quarter Life Crisis, with a high school friend throughout New Zealand and in Melbourne and Adelaide.

“I didn’t like the idea that the arts was all I knew and I recognised that if I didn’t do something else, that would continue to be all I knew and all I would be able to do,” Nicola said. “That was when I decided to move to Melbourne in 2007 with the primary goal of moving away from the arts to see what else I could do.

“At that stage I had never heard of recruitment and had no idea what it was as an industry. It was only when I started applying for jobs and ended up being interviewed by recruitment companies that I was introduced to the sector and I thought that was something I could do and looked like fun.”

An interview with Drake International in 2012 resulted in Nicola being offered a position as a Recruitment Consultant on the permanent desk where she very quickly discovered there was a wide range of transferable skills between acting and recruitment.

“All of that training I had is so fabulous for a career in recruitment for so many different reasons,” Nicola, an RCSA NZ Council Member, said. “The training to be an actor is how to be human, how to read people, how to have empathy, how to understand people.

“I was after work that was people oriented, I wanted to have ownership over what I was doing, be able to make some money and keep connected to people in a way which helped them develop.

“I would say other transferable skills include resilience, drive and passion. We are a competitive industry and the people I know that are successful artists are competitive with themselves using themselves each day to be the best.

“My acting training has also been really good for helping me to manage my nerves and teach candidates how they can manage their nerves during interviews and the selection process.

“I picked up a lot of tricks in the theatre for that including when you are really nervous, simply bending down and scratching your toes. I like that I can share those tips with candidates and help them on their own journey to success.”

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
bottom of page