When you’re looking to break into a different career, you have the dual challenge of impressing hiring managers and beating out a pool of other candidates with more relevant background experience. How can you convince prospective employers to take a chance on you?
Follow our guide to writing a career change resume to position your skills in a strong light and get the best chance of landing an interview as you venture into an exciting new field.
What to focus on in a career change resume
Highlight transferable skills
Transferable skills are those shared between your current field and the one you want to switch to or skills that are valuable in any line of work. They’re crucial when you want to transition into an area where you don’t have much experience.
What responsibilities from your current job also apply to the job you want? What skills are relevant and useful in both roles? Incorporate these–and the accomplishments that go with them–throughout your resume.
For example, maybe you’re a teacher, but you’re looking for a new job that will allow you to explore your passion for graphic design. You’d want to use your resume to highlight your skill in creating visually engaging, developmentally appropriate learning materials for your students.
Lead with a strong summary statement
The top portion of a resume is the most important part for every applicant, but even more so for people who are changing careers. Hiring managers use that section to make a snap judgment about whether it’s worth their time to continue reading, so you have to use it to immediately establish your strengths as a candidate.
Do this by writing a compelling and succinct statement that summarizes your most important skills and points out how you’ll contribute in the role for which you’re applying.
Why do you need a career change resume?
Convince the hiring manager you can do the job
The bottom-line question for hiring managers is: can you do the job successfully? If the answer is yes, it doesn’t matter if you were previously a waitress, a welder, or a waste management engineer. Your resume cements you as a candidate worth interviewing and does so quickly.
Showcase your relevant skills
To ensure it’s clear to hiring managers how your skills are relevant, consider using a dedicated section to detail specific skill areas like project management or visual design. In the teacher-to-graphic-designer career change example we used earlier, you might create a section that showcases your design skills and list things such as:
- Engaged 2nd-grade students in the creative process, developing visually stimulating lesson plans to foster their artistic skills
- Designed private school’s 50-page annual report and prepared it for print
- Served as chair of the after-school graphic design club, which boasts more than 30 members
When should you use a career change resume?
Use a career change resume when you:
- Are looking to break into a new industry
- Are reentering the workforce after time off
- Have a diverse range of skills and experience to showcase
- Are applying to many different types of jobs
Career change common challenges and how to overcome them
Lacking experience in your desired field
Switching fields mid-career is certainly possible, but no one said it would be easy. Since you don’t have the same lengthy background as other candidates, you’ll have to get creative to show hiring managers that you’ve put forth the effort in preparing to enter this field and aren’t just jumping in unprepared.
Think of as many relevant experiences as possible that have set you up to succeed in the role. Include volunteer work, education courses, certifications, independent study, community involvement, and more.
Competing against experienced applicants
Use a cover letter in tandem with your resume to hook the hiring manager’s attention and make them want to read more. In your cover letter, explicitly state that you’re making a switch to another career and give some background information on your decision (assuming, of course, you have an engaging explanation like pursuing something you’re passionate about or a personal anecdote of why you’re so interested in a new path).
Since it can include more personal flair, your cover letter is a great way to set yourself apart and show how you’re distinct from other applicants.
Career change format and key components
Your resume should include the following sections:
- Contact information
Since you’re not established in your field (i.e. easy to find on Google), it’s essential to make sure your contact details are free of errors. Include your first and last name, phone number, professional email address, and your location. Hiring managers want to know if you’re local or if relocation would be part of the deal if they were to hire you.
- Summary Statement
Now it’s time to impress. You can either use a summary statement, which highlights your most noteworthy accomplishments related to the job you’re seeking, or an objective statement, which states your intent to enter the selected field and showcases transferable skills. Either one works, but a summary statement is generally stronger. Here’s an example: “Elementary educator with more than 10 years of experience looking to leverage creative skills as a graphic designer at Huntington Tutoring Center. Strong track record of successfully facilitating targeted learning while fostering artistic expression.”
A skills section is a must-have for a career change resume because it emphasizes your abilities, which are what will help you get the job, rather than your experience. Typically, a skill section would take the form of a simple list. This is sufficient, but we recommend taking it one step further and expanding on each area to give examples of related accomplishments.
For example, if you’re listing CSS as a technical skill, you might cite a few accomplishments underneath it, like ‘learned to code via independent study and attained HCCS certification’ and ‘built a custom professional portfolio website using CSS.’
When you’re changing careers, you probably lack experience. There’s not much you can do about that, so the goal of this section is to play up the responsibilities and achievements that demonstrate transferable skills.
Is there anything you did in a previous job, even secondary responsibilities, that’s similar to the duties of the job you want? What projects have you worked on where you used parallel skill sets? These types of experiences should be called out with bullet points under each of your prior jobs.
- Additional credentials and certifications
Professional certifications not only help you expand your knowledge in your new field; they show that you’re committed to the transition and are already taking steps on your own to set yourself up for success. Be sure any credentials you list are relevant to the new field rather than the one you’re leaving.
Even if it’s been a while since graduation, your education section can be used to strengthen your candidacy. For example, if you took coursework or minored in your desired field, highlight that information in addition to merely listing your degree.