While there aren’t necessarily any reliable statistics on how often people change careers in their lifetime, it is certainly not uncommon. As you embark on this journey, it is worth noting that you are not alone, and this path has been forged by many before you.
Still, it can feel intimidating trying to break into a new career field. You are competing with people who seem to have more relevant experience than you, and you might feel as though you don’t belong or aren’t qualified.
The good news is that you likely have more qualifications than you realize. The fact that you’ve been employed in the past means you have taken on many responsibilities and held many roles. With a little careful examination, you can begin to see how the skills you have gained via your past employment, or even hobbies, are perfectly applicable to a new career. Coming in with a more diverse background can even make you an asset.
In this article, we discuss how to prepare yourself and your resume to maximize your appeal to prospective employers in the career field you want to break into. By carefully reframing and leveraging your past experiences, you can land your dream job in no time.
First, Do Your Research
When starting on a new career path, it is important to do research and become aware of what skills are most relevant and highly sought after. You can often find these skills listed on job advertisements, but consider talking to friends or people you know in the industry to get the inside scoop.
Once you have made a list of desirable skills and experience, you can start the process of picking out which of your past experiences – through employment or otherwise – demonstrate these skills.
After all, many skills are applicable across several types of jobs. So, while you may not have experience being a team leader for a group of programmers, perhaps you have led and organized groups of child care workers in the past.
Work on New Skills If Needed
If, after determining what prospective employers might be looking for in a new hire, you feel that you lack in some critical areas, it might be worth taking some time to fill skill gaps before making the jump.
For example, if you are unfamiliar with Google Docs or Microsoft Office, and these are used extensively in the new career field, taking a one-week course on these programs will not only help you learn what you need and be prepared but also you will be able to add these skills to your resume.
Some skills take a lot longer to develop than others, but anything that can be learned in a relatively short amount of time without too much effort is likely worth it so that you can beef up your resume. Taking the initiative to do this can show prospective employers just how serious you are.
Focus on Skills and Experience Over Employment History
When changing careers, the exact nature of your employment history is usually less relevant than any skills or experience you have pertaining to your new job.
For example, if you have been working as an auto mechanic for the last decade and would now like to become a computer programmer, you probably don’t want your work history to be the first thing a prospective employer will see. What’s going to be most important to the potential employer is your programming skills, which should be the first thing they see on your resume.
Instead of putting your employment history first, consider starting your resume with a skills section and list the relevant skills you possess in order of importance. You should also list your relevant experience before getting to your work history.
Experience can include anything you’ve done or accomplished that is related to the desired job. This can include hobby activities, classes taken, and even certain tasks completed in your old job.
Ultimately, your resume’s central focus should be on everything that qualifies you for this new position, not a comprehensive list of everything you’ve ever done. Because you are changing careers, the odds are that the bulk of your actual work experience is unrelated or tangent, so try to find ways to reframe it in terms of how it pertains to the new career.
Leverage Your Old Career to Make Yourself Stand Out
It might be difficult to compete with someone who has been in this new industry for a longer period of time, but keep in mind that your past experience gives you something they don’t have. Find a way to frame and leverage your old career to make it appear as an asset for someone entering your new career.
For example, if you used to work in education and now want to work in advertising, there are many skills you have that someone in the industry does not by having spent so much time working with people and getting them to understand things. You probably have a very keenly developed ability to explain complex topics to just about anyone. List this skill and provide a brief explanation of how this experience means you come with new insights that others don’t have.
Go down the list of desired skills sought out by prospective employers and see if you can find a way to explain how your previous job makes you even better at some of it than someone in the industry.
The Art of Reframing
As described in the previous section, much of what needs to happen when creating a career change resume is a careful reframing of who you are and what you can do.
Your past career required a certain set of skills and involved a certain set of tasks that may not transfer well to your new career. By finding ways to repackage your experience so that it looks appealing to someone wanting to hire in the new career field, you don’t need to put your past in a waste bin.
Again, the key is to make the entire focus of the resume on everything you can do that makes you perfect for this new job and career field. The way you describe past experiences and duties should be worded with that in mind.
For example, suppose you’re making the jump from a sales representative to an interior designer. Instead of stating that you closed multiple high-level deals for your previous company, you might want to emphasize your ability to relate to and understand the customer. List how you read people well, are able to help them find what’s right for them, and how they leave happy.
Resume Formatting and Templates
The prospect of writing a resume can appear daunting at first. There seem to be so many formats, templates, and a whole multitude of opinions in regards to which one is perfect or which one will result in failure.
The primary thing your resume needs to do is make it clear that you can do the job. If you are switching careers, you want a resume format that will emphasize skills and experience over work history. The three main types of resumes are as follows:
Chronological: All work and experience are listed in chronological order.
Functional: The most relevant skills and experience are listed first.
Combined: This is a mixture of chronological and functional.
For a career change, the functional resume format is usually the best, as it allows you to focus on your skills rather than your past jobs. You can check out our Definitive Resume Guide to learn more about each type of resume and how to format them.
Consider Mentioning Your Reason for Changing Careers
Many resumes have a brief “objective” section at the top where you can provide a quick sentence or two explaining your career goals. This might be the perfect place to include a brief, but relevant, explanation of your reasons for changing careers.
A prospective employer will likely want to know why you are making a change and what you are hoping to accomplish as a result. Are you pivoting into a long-held passion? Do you see a way to use your old skills in innovative ways toward this new pursuit? Make it clear in your statement that this isn’t a case of “the grass is greener” and is the next step in your evolution.
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