Resume and Cover Letter Tips for a Career Change

by Kimberly Sarmiento

Resume Cover Letter Tips Career Change

Most people who are looking for a new job are looking to make a change to one degree or another. However, some job seekers are trying to make a much more significant change than others – they are looking to change industries or fields altogether.

Perhaps you recently completed a degree or certification that you want to use. Or maybe you want to go back into the field you originally studied. Still others might want to move from the corporate world into non-profit or transition from owning their own business to work for a major company again.

No matter the circumstance, making a significant career change can be intimidating for job seekers, but there are some resume and cover letter tips that can make the transition easier. This article is aimed at helping you grab the attention of the hiring manager even without the traditional background they are looking for.

Identify and Highlight Transferable Skills

First and foremost, you need to identify the skills you possess that would easily transfer to the new position you are interested in pursuing. If you aren’t sure what skills to highlight, start by looking at the job ad you want to apply to. Usually, they will list skills or capabilities that are required (or at least desired). Look for skills you used in previous positions and focus on those.

For example, someone who has worked as a retail store manager who wants to transition into call center management can focus on customer service, client relations, communications, hiring, training, and team management skills for starters. They also might be able to focus on process improvement or cost control achievements.

If you don’t see specific examples that align with your background, try to imagine how your skills might relate to the employer’s requirements. I’ve worked with individuals looking to transition from the corporate world into the non-profit sector. We showcased how their experience in recruiting could be used to showcase how they can grow membership. We also demonstrated how sales and business development skills could be used to secure sponsorships and drive fundraising accomplishments.

I have been called upon on several occasions to help people who have been in business for themselves to re-enter the corporate world. In those instances, I tend to focus on achievements that demonstrate my client’s skill in the job sector they want to enter. Therefore, if they want to focus on operations, I try to highlight operational achievements from their small business. On the other hand, if they want to go into business development, we focus on the sales, revenue growth, client relations, and relationship development aspects of their work.

Showcase Achievements That Validate Your Transferable Skills

I strongly advocate including an achievements section on your resume and perhaps using some bulleted achievements in your cover letter. This strategy might not work for all of my clients, but it does work for the vast majority of them. When you are looking to make a career change, use an achievements section to give weight to your transferable skills.

NOTE: Don’t just list your achievements; go ahead and draw the connection in the reader’s mind. Use a format like the following:

Business Development: Launched and grew an organic pastry business into a seven-figure operation by securing a presence with local and regional supermarkets and convenient stores. Traveled throughout the state to provide samples and expand/diversify product lines carried at more than 100 locations.
Fundraising / Event Management: Organized and executed multiple events aimed at increasing employee recognition and engagement. Also, headed Toys-for-Tots, American Cancer Society, and Food Drive fundraising and volunteer activity among a 225-member workforce.

Highlight New Degrees and Certifications

Generally speaking, professional resume writers will list education and credentials at the bottom of the first or second-page of your resume, after the professional overview. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but that is true for most professionals with more than 10 years of work experience.

However, if your career change hinges on a new certification or degree that you have earned, you might want to find a way to call attention to it. You can include the initials (such as PMP or MBA) after your name, highlight the degree/certificate in your achievements section, or move your education section to a more prominent position on your resume.

If you decide to move your education section to a higher position on your resume, you might want to consider breaking your professional experience into two separate sections. The first one would be related to experience (even an internship) that aligns with your new degree and career direction. The second one would be labeled something such as “Other Relevant Experience.” That section would be an abbreviated summary of your career experience not related to your new goals.

The reason you want to include older history that might not be related to your new career path is to establish that you are not a new graduate (and have experience that justifies you apply to more than just an entry-level position).

Use Non-Professional Experience to Demonstrate Your Ability to Do the Job

If you have internships, volunteer work, or academic projects that demonstrate the skills you want a hiring manager to know you possess, go ahead and include these in an achievement or overview section. This type of experience might not always be relevant on a resume, but if they demonstrate specific skill sets you need the hiring manager to know you have, go ahead an include these talking points until you have successfully transitioned into your new career.

Leverage Older Relevant Experience

For some of my clients, they are looking to return to a type of work they did earlier in their career, but got away from. In some instances, that work experience goes back further than the 15 years we would usually highlight in detail on a resume. When that happens, you need to weigh the positive of including older experience (don’t go back beyond the 1990’s) with the negative of having the resume “age” you.

Keeping this in mind, you should be cautious not to include older technical skills if you don’t have expertise in the more modern version of the software/application. Also, try not to focus on skills you don’t feel you can still demonstrate proficiency in or that may have changed significantly since you worked in that field (such as regulatory compliance if you aren’t up-to-date on legislative changes).

Use Your Resume to Explain the Reason for Your Change

Even if you are changing fields, your resume needs to be more professional than personal. Therefore, while you highlight transferable skills and relevant education and achievements on your resume, your cover letter is the place to explain the personal reasons for your career change.

I had one client who transitioned from banking into counseling. The client completed a new advanced degree and was passionate about moving from helping people with their financial problems to helping them with life obstacles. It was in the cover letter that we explained that client’s desire to change careers and how his past experience would predict his future success.

While not every hiring manager takes the time to read a cover letter, if you are looking to make a career change, it is best to take the time to explain your reasons in a letter. If the hiring manager does read the letter, you are far more likely to get an interview than relying on the resume alone to tell your story.

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