Everything You Need to Know About Explaining your Career Change in your Resume


Sep 4, 2023 | Career Change, Resumes

With a little determination and knowledge, you can use your resume to make your dream career come true.

Switching careers, while rewarding, can be incredibly daunting in the beginning. If you’re gearing up to make the change, you’re going to need top-notch professional documents in your corner to boost your confidence and lock down interviews.

While the challenges are tough, the rewards are many. Career and industry changers can find an entirely new definition of fulfillment in their new line of work, especially if they know what kind of company culture and work environment they’re looking for.

As with any worthwhile endeavor, you will face obstacles along the way. When you try to break into a new industry, you’re competing with applicants with more directly relevant experience than you. You’re also expanding outside your network and figuring out how to apply your skill set in a whole new way, which may be scary and unfamiliar at first.

Fortunately, you’re not alone. Career changes are common among professionals, especially right now. That means there are tried and true strategies for successfully making the switch.

To put your best foot forward onto this new path, you need to tailor your resume to the industry, (and more specifically, the job) you’re applying to. A strong resume will show a recruiter the qualifications you would bring from your unique professional background.

Whereas the cover letter gives you a chance to talk about yourself, your goals, and your key skills, the resume functions as a highlight reel of your career. Instead of listing every single responsibility from each position you’ve held, you need to give them a taste of your actualized accomplishments that demonstrate the experience they’re looking for.

There are many factors to consider when crafting your career change resume. We’ll walk you through each, and if you’re still unsure if your resume is up to par, have one of our writers give it a free critique.

person at a fork in the road

Photo by Caleb Jones on Unsplash

Tailoring a career change resume for hiring manager concerns

Hiring managers aren’t always eager to take on someone from outside the industry. But don’t let their hesitation discourage you. The more you understand about their concerns, the better you can dissuade their fears and show them you’re the right one for the job.

Many recruiters find it risky to hire someone with a seemingly unrelated background. Because an applicant who is new to the industry might lack key skills or industry knowledge that others find innate, hiring teams may anticipate having to find resources to train and guide them into the new field.

To counter this perceived risk, demonstrate your industry acumen. Lead with relevant education, certifications, and volunteer opportunities, so hiring managers understand you’re not completely new to the founding concepts of their work.

In addition to questioning an applicant’s ability to function in a new industry, hiring managers may worry about your commitment to the field. Without a background in a similar area, they might question your motivations and expectations for what you’re getting into. Your education and certifications can also help here, but one of your strongest opportunities to explain your dedication to the field comes right at the beginning of your resume: the Summary of Qualifications section.

Starting a career change resume with a strong summary

After your contact information and your top skills, the first thing a hiring manager will see is your professional summary. This is your chance to craft a clear and compelling opening statement that demonstrates why you’re an exceptional candidate for their industry.

To position yourself as a valuable candidate despite the career change, you need to highlight your transferrable skills right away. While in a traditional resume you might include your current position title, a more general descriptor will often suite a career change resume better.

For example, let’s say you have managerial experience, but you don’t want to limit your reach by focusing on it in the context your current industry. In this case, you could lead with a description that outlines your strongest transferable skills for the job description, such as:

Driven director with 20+ years of experience in information and data management who advances business objectives by building and maintaining strong relationships with customers and translating their needs into innovative solutions that incite cost-effective process improvements.

You can continue this theme throughout the resume by centering your experience around skills that are most applicable to your new career and industry.

Rearrange your career change resume sections for maximum impact

For a traditional resume, there’s a standard layout to follow. But when you’re structuring your career change resume, be prepared to get creative. While a resume can go up to two pages, a recruiter or hiring manager may not get to the second page – especially if you don’t catch their interest right away.

That’s why it’s important to put the most relevant information at the top of your resume. After your Summary of Qualifications, you can order the rest of the resume in whatever way is most advantageous to your job search.

For example, if you’re transferring into the medical field, you might have an emergency medical technician (EMT) certification, but no professional medical experience. In this case, you should list your certification before your work experience, because it shows your qualifications for the role more than your position as a manager would.

The same idea applies to formal education, workshops, and certifications related to the new field. If you recently earned took a coding workshop to prepare for the transition, you don’t have to bury it at the bottom. You can list this before your less relevant work experience to show you have software knowledge right away.

If you have relevant professional experience, but it’s older, you might use alternative structure and headings such as “Relevant Experience” or “Additional Experience” to keep your relevant experience at the top while keeping each section chronological.

Regardless of how you decide to organize it, be sure to emphasize your transferable skills over your job titles. The simplest ways to do this is to highlight the accomplishments from each position that demonstrate your most transferable skills.

How to use accomplishments to demonstrate transferable skills

Before you dig into your professional experience, do your research. Read over job descriptions from your new industry to identify the skills hiring managers in the field look for. Make a list of all of the ones that match your experience, and use it describe your accomplishments.

It’s important to go beyond listing these skills in your Areas of Expertise section. You need to provide examples of how these skills were used effectively in past roles, so that a hiring manager knows what you’re capable of. This will help them make the connection between what you’ve accomplished in the past, and how you can contribute to their company in the future.

To quickly and clearly emphasize the impact you made and demonstrate the improvements you could bring to their business, use numerical metrics. When you quantify your achievements with measurable results, (such as a dollar amount of cost savings or a percentage increase in efficiency,) you show them you’re not simply a passive team member, but an active performer.

Final tips for writing a career change resume

When you write your resume, you may be tempted to pack it full of as much experience as you can. While it’s important to highlight your key accomplishments, make sure you keep the document concise and free of fluff. Don’t include responsibilities that are niche to your current industry, or fill your areas of expertise section with irrelevant skills. It should be clean and clearly focused on your objective.

Your cover letter is also powerful document to explain your career change. It’s your opportunity to talk about your interest in the field, and it can support the transferable skills in your resume by going deeper into the stories of your relevant accomplishments.

In both your resume and cover letter, be honest and genuine about your journey. Don’t pretend to have experience that you don’t, but be open with your interest and commitment to the industry by communicating the efforts you’ve made to prepare. Even a class, online training course, or independent project can go a long way in showing your passion (and it demonstrates your willingness to continue learning).

Finally, be sure to optimize your LinkedIn network. By connecting with leaders, professionals, and companies in the new industry, you can learn more about the ins and outs of the work, establish proactive professional relationships, and even find a new job.

Career change resume takeaways

A career change can sometimes feel like you’re going back to the very beginning of your professional journey. Instead of thinking of it as a setback, though, approach it as an opportunity. You’re putting yourself out there on a whole new adventure!

As you go down this path, try not to undervalue your experience. Your diverse knowledge and unique background have the potential to deeply enrich a team or organization. You have no idea who or what you might positively influence when you put yourself out there.

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