Career Path

How to Market Your Obsolete Skills

Ways to make even outdated expertise seem current.

A few years ago, a longtime direct marketing pro we’ll call Melissa was looking for a job after being laid off. One of her premier skill sets was being a snail-mail direct marketing guru—a skill that today is, well, pretty much dead. How could she turn those outdated skills into something relevant?

Many obsolete skills are still in demand, particularly in industries that don't update practices as often.   

Even if you’re only a few years out of college, it’s likely there’s a skill set you may have that’s in the job graveyard with milk men and elevator operators. But career experts say these barely breathing skills can still snag you a job, and often, it’s just finding a way to spin those antiquated skills into proof of your solid experience. Because the truth is, everyone’s skills are becoming outdated at a rapid clip these days; last year, Dell’s chief information officer, Bask Iyer, told tech workers to “upskill” every 18 months or be prepared to become irrelevant. Here’s how to stay up to date.

Investigate sectors that are still using your skills.

Before you panic, first seek out companies and industries where your expertise continues to be in demand. “For many obsolete skills, there’s still a market,” says Kathy Robinson, who heads the career-coaching firm TurningPoint. “But you have to find the little ecosystem where you can be a superstar.” Programmers who know a particular computer language called COBOL recently became in high-demand at banks, which still relied on COBOL for operations. One programmer with expertise in the ancient computer language found a job at a bank, and while he was safely earning a steady paycheck, he took classes to get up to speed in other computer languages.

To be sure, “you certainly aren’t going to see these jobs advertised,” says Priscilla Claman, who heads Career Strategies Inc. Your best bet: investigate companies in more-conservative industries that are less likely to update their practices.

Focus on what’s transferable.

If your primary skill set isn’t marketable, see what expertise you have that can be transferred to another job. Matt, for example, became an investigative analyst at an investment firm after working as a financial reporter for years. His ability to research and drill down on people and companies caught the eye of the firm’s partners, who wanted someone to perform due diligence for their funds.

Attending industry conferences and meet-ups can help you stay abreast of your peers. “You need to find ways to listen to the market,” says Jason Levin, a career and outplacement coach with Ready Set Launch.

Speak the lingo.

Even if you aren’t completely up-to-date with skills, it’s wise to use the current buzzwords. If you use out-of-date terms, “you’ll end up sounding like a dinosaur,” Robinson says. Melissa, for example, made sure to talk conversion rates and market segmentation in her job interviews, eschewing anything that remotely sounded like direct-mail speak.

Be smart about your resume summary.

Whatever you decide to emphasize on your resume or LinkedIn profile, make sure to summarize your focus at the top and word your description carefully. “Don’t talk about the expertise from the past,” says Hallie Crawford, a career coach in Atlanta. “Talk about the pieces that relate to whatever makes you current.”