Career Changes And Your Resume

We’ve all been there: you are thinking about changing or getting a new job, and you return to your resume to update it to a state where you believe potential recruiters and employers will be selecting yours above all others. You polish your achievements, tweak your interests and rewrite your summary to align with your target company and current fashion in writing trends.

But now it’s time to change your career. Making drastic changes to the direction you’re going in and potentially the industry you’re working at. Suddenly the changes you make to the resume seem forced, education doesn’t match, past experiences seem superfluous or haphazard. And simply removing the items that don’t match your intended career leave empty spots and make your resume look empty and plain, giving the impression you’ve hardly achieved anything the last couple of years.

That’s not a great feeling, and you don’t need to go through that. You can rewrite your resume to target for your intended career, but it’s going to take a bit more work. It requires a fresh start, so see it as an opportunity to turn over a new leaf and frame your experiences and achievements in a new way that is going to benefit your transition.

For the purposes of this article, changing your career refers to moving to a different industry or job group than your current one. For example, if you were in sales and moving to finance. Or finance and moving to marketing. In addition, you could move from working in the automotive industry and trying to work for a logistics company (a small step) or a software startup (a large step).

Basic Structure

The first thing to realize is that the traditional, reverse chronological approach to resumes might not be suited if you’re changing careers. If you don’t add information that is not relevant to prospective employers you might leave many gaps, but if you do add this then they might wonder why you’re applying to functions that are obviously much different (and lower in career level) than your current one.

Instead, a functional resume – focusing on tangible skills and benefits – might be more suited to getting your point across. But to make this you need to first set up a basic structure for this, and then fill that in with the bits and pieces from your existing resume, slightly modified.

We’ll begin by deciding what the resume should achieve for the reader. Then, we can look at what problems you are equipped to solve for them. Then, we can describe how your education and experience gives you a unique advantage. Finally we need to show how far along you are in development from one career to another, and that you are open to alternative ways of growth such as internships, associations or entrepreneurship. 

Set Your Goals

A resume aimed at a career change is different from one meant to entice an employer to hire you. It doesn’t focus so much on what you’re capable of and how you will benefit your prospective new boss, but instead it should highlight how your previous experiences and achievements make you eligible for being in your new industry or career. 

The goal of your resume has changed from convincing its target of your value according to the set requirements of a job description to convincing its target of how events and benefits from a different sector or education can provide surprising benefits they might not have considered before. This is more difficult, since you don’t have a set list of requirements to tick off, but much more rewarding because you are free to show off how you have unique benefits that no one else can offer. Just like in sales, you’re not selling them a product, you’re selling them a solution. Which means figuring out what problems there are, describing them to show you’re in the know, and then establishing while you are uniquely equipped to handle them.

  • Research the industry and sector in which your intended career path exists
  • Note down what problems are commonly faced, and how they usually deal with them (or not!)
  • Think on how your knowledge and experience could solve their problem in a new way

Assess Your Education

Depending on your exact education and the time passed since then, your education might offer few or many handholds for entry into your new career. In this case, it pays to have a general education like communications, social studies or engineering, as they have a tendencies of teaching a broad range of basic topics useful in many companies. Generally, the more specific your education, the harder it is to change your career. 

So if you have a very specific kind of education, such as Law or Medicine, you’re going to have to dig deep. Here you want to look not at what you learned, but the mental maturity and transferable skills that were part of it. For example, a medicine degree that allows you to be a doctor means you are skilled at analysis, stress and grief management, have a good memory and likely to have a good sense of direction under pressure. So those are the things you’d have to focus on, and see how they can be of benefit in your new career.

Going from medicine to HR might mean a focus on the stress and grief management and analysis, while entering the field of crisis management might see the stress management coupled with the ability to work under pressure. If possible, name specific events in your Experience section which highlighted those things you acquired from your education, to show their use in a practical situation.

It is easier if you have a number of courses or skills from your education that already have some overlap, such as having had management training before and going into a leadership role. Or, if you’ve had training as a medic in the military and are trying to get into emergency medical services. These specific skills where you can draw a direct conclusion that these are useful in your new role have to become the hero in this section. It means that while you may not have all the knowledge a prospective employer might look for, you’ve a decent base to work from.

Remember that of all sections, education will be the least important and most vague, unless your new career demands a particular study or title, like Law or Medicine. In many cases, employers are looking at this to see your general mental capacity, but focus on more recent and practical information to make their decisions. 

Reframe Your Experience

Now you can do the same things with your experience. Rather than listing your jobs in reverse chronological order, put those experiences and achievements down that make you an excellent candidate for your future role. The key here is to look for a number of “supports” to show how you are well prepared and that there’s an obvious evolution from you doing one job, and growing into another.

For example, if you were currently doing a financial job where you managed a small team and the implementation of a change to the financial process which helped speed up the process as a whole. When planning a move to a project management position, the ability to run a team and successfully implement an organizational change show that you have performed similar functions before and understand the basic principles and actions required.

Each entry in your resume should list one of the skills you’ve used in a capacity that would benefit your new career. Preferably, you can link it back to something you’ve learned during your education, showing a natural progression from theory to practice. Frame the experience in a way that relates it to a problem that exists in your target role or industry.

For example: “I have managed a small team in the implementation of a complicated, multi-departmental change in our financial process which resulted in our monthly reports taking only half the time to complete. Since late reporting and subsequent late corrections of design and plans are one of the most common causes of construction projects, I believe that this will allow me to enact significant improvements in efficiency as financial manager at constructo.”

By linking your achievement (in another sector) to how it could solve a problem in your target sector, you will pique a hiring manager’s interest. By offering a tangible benefit mitigating an industry weakness you’ve gone beyond simply matching requirements and instead are drawing attention to yourself as a talented candidate. 

List Your Development Requirements

If you had completely matched education and experience for your target industry, you would not have need for alterations to your resume. Instead, it is likely that you will have gaps in these requirements that need addressing. There are two main ways that you can do this, and that is by mitigation and by dedication. Both first require you to be aware in which ways your education and experience are not exactly matching up to what is expected of someone who started out in your chosen target career.

Mitigation means that you have identified gaps in your development, and have addressed them by using alternative means. For example, you might not have a formal education, but you have a lot of experience that would put you at the same level as someone who did. Or, you have followed a large number of courses or have done research to address a lack of theoretical knowledge. Perhaps you’ve done some sort of internship, or took part in an organization that was strongly related to your chosen career, allowing you to have additional first-hand experience. 

Dedication involves admitting your weaknesses, and either planning for how these will be mitigated in the future, or how your new employer could help your development along. While you may lack formal experience in the field, you might be able to be brought up to speed with on-the-job training. Or perhaps the knowledge required to do the job is behind a wall of confidentiality, and you could quickly catch up once accepted within the organization. 

Making sure your resume addresses your requirements takes the sting out of potentially hiring you as someone with a non-standard development path for the industry, instead focusing on the benefits and unique insights you bring in from your first career. Additionally, the fact that you have thought this all out and created a development path for yourself shows that you are serious about your development, and it becomes interesting to bring in HR to make a judgement call on your prospects. 

Remain Open To Alternatives

In many cases, changing a career involves convincing hiring managers to take a chance on you. When you are a person who doesn’t simply check off the boxes on the list, hiring you becomes an investment where they cannot be certain it pays off. If managers are risk-averse, it means they might not be willing to give you a chance, or might look for alternative ways where they can get a sense of your performance in a controlled environment before making a decision on if, and where, you might be able to join their organization.

This means that what you need to be open for is the option of alternative employment, or some form of extended trial period. Perhaps the organization is willing to give you an internship, or a trainee position, where you would be able to learn the practical aspects of the industry and department, growing into the role you would be looking for. It is also possible that you might be granted the role you aimed for, but with an extended trial period to mitigate the risk of you having certain deficiencies.

Another consideration is to operate in your chosen career on a freelance basis, allowing this, or several companies, to hire you as a contractor in your chosen field. This would allow you to see the scene from multiple angles, while avoiding the tangles of a fixed employment attached that might scare off a potential employer. Once you’ve made a name for yourself and have several positive references, you would be wise to negotiate for a fixed contract with the company of your choosing. Doing this means that a great performance might result in several companies bidding for your permanent services, which is really the best thing anyone can hope for.

Take the long view on this, and make note in your resume that you are open to alternative ways of being employed and gaining practical knowledge and experience. You don’t need to give details, as these will vary greatly per the individual organization you are talking to and the level of confidence you have at the table. Prepare for yourself some scenarios you’d find acceptable, and be strong about what things you do not find acceptable. Working without pay, for example, or not having health coverage, are usually signs you might be taken advantage of.

Changing careers is a gamble for both you and the hiring organization, but you’re not a novice and as such you are entitled to the respect and legal protection that is due. Keep your confidence high and do not accept terms that will lock you into a low-paid long-hour situation under the pretense of “getting experience”. Prospective employers worth their salt will respect this and also appreciate an employee who knows their limits and when to say no.

The Summary Last

Once all this is done, you can start writing your summary. This is a first-person, short-story form introduction which should summarize all of this into a bite-sized chunk for recruiters and hiring managers. Keep to your own style, that’s important, but be sure to include what you’re doing now, and why you want to change into another career. Here you have a chance at being open up-front and laying your story on the table. It should be a positive, future-focused line that makes the reader sympathetic to why you want to change up your career and give you a chance.

For example: “I never imagined I would want to work in finance before, until I was asked by my manager to help out in completing the financial plan for the next year with our finance department. I loved seeing all those streams of information and numbers come together, and especially transforming numbers into coherent strategies and directives. The person who impressed me the most was our CFO, who was managing the project and kept a level head at all times. This inspired me to take classes in business finance and work on more projects like this. Unfortunately, our company’s finance department is well staffed and as such I am looking for a place where I can hone my skills to be as sure and steady as our CFO.”

This piece grips on to a tangible event that made someone change their minds on a department, drew them in and inspired them to dig deeper. It speaks of a dawning realization, and a role model that gave a clear development goal. It shows why they are looking outside of their own company for further development.

Conclusion

By adjusting your resume from a standard timeline to a functional listing of your skills and experiences, you avoid many of the difficult questions regarding age, deficiencies and why you chose to change up your career. Making sure that the story is out beforehand and on your terms means that more time at the table can be spent on discussing your change and how you can grow and that you have what it takes, rather than taking away doubts about why you would leave your company or why you want to do a job that lies so far outside of your comfort zone.

But a resume is there to get to the table, once you’re in your conversation with a recruiter or hiring manager, you are at the next phase. You’ve passed the hurdle of the pile of CVs and are now at the level where you are considered and judged as a person. Now is the opportunity to make the most of it, and show that your potential and talent will win out in the end to bring your career switch to a successful close.

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