My husband, who is now a conductor-trainee with UP, had many marketable skills that any railroad would be interested in. He was a tower climber by trade and had an excellent attendance and safety record. He knew radio communications. He had been a mechanic, and had experience with automotive diesel repair. He was fit (and still is) and appears almost twenty years younger than he really is. So he had lots of hireable attributes.
Funny thing is, before we came across the right resources, we couldn't think of why he SHOULD be hired by the RR. We just knew we wanted him OFF of the towers- considering that every year several tower workers die on the job.
Then he met someone-- a former RR employee-- who was impressed with his background and skills. He mentioned to my husband that he ought to apply, because he had so many great qualifications. This was a great guy, who unfortunately left the RR on unpleasant terms, so he was NOT someone who could put in a good word for us. But HE DID open my husband's eyes to the possibilities.
The next thing that happened was that I scoured the internet for articles about how to get hired with the railroads. There were TWO resources that especially helped us:
RAILROAD EMPLOYMENT FORUM: There is a great RR employment forum. Current / experienced employees post in this forum and are generous and good-natured about providing helpful insights. Here's the link: http://railroad.net/forums/viewforum.php?f=2
BOOK ABOUT GETTING A RR JOB: We bought an online "book" about getting a RR job. It was not cheap. And most of the info provided is also available for free on the above-mentioned employment forum. HOWEVER, there are a few valuable tidbits of info that we found to be unique and invaluable. One of those tidbits is a list of key words that the railroad human resources people are scanning for when they scan resumes. I wouldn't suggest just putting the key words in just to put them in- BUT the list was helpful to US because it helped my husband to reflect on his vast work experience and to pick out which experiences (indicated by the keywords would be most helpful for him to mention during the interview in order to provide the interviewers with the best possible picture of how his experience related to the RR industry. You'd be surprised to see what they're looking for. Your work experience may be more attractive to them than you'd think. We spent the money, we found the book to be very helpful. We felt it gave my husband a competitive edge. It certainly built his confidence. Other people have said that they were disappointed that the book was so short, and they felt they overpaid. Nonetheless, if you want to leave no stone unturned, this book might be for you. You can buy it and download it from this site: http://www.getarailroadjob.com/