An article published by The Balance Careers examined how the average professional is likely to change careers up to 7 times in their lifetime, as reported by the US Department of Labor. How you define “career change” can vary. From switching employers or industries, to focusing on an entirely different specialty. Even changing to a new role within the same employer or field can constitute a career change.
How do you get noticed by HR when you change careers?
The Good and Bad of Changing Careers
The Good News:
Career change has become more common than ever, particularly in emerging fields like cannabis where talent who come with loads of prior experience are rarer. Professionals of all experience levels and industries are taking a hard look at their skills, experience, and knowledge, and assessing potential new fields in which those assets can be applied.
The Not-So-Good News:
Competing for a job as a career changer can prove difficult when you’re up against candidates with directly applicable experience in your desired field or specialty. However, with the right tools and positioning, it is entirely possible to leverage your existing assets and stand out as a top contender. The key is in how you position yourself in your resume and brand presence so that hiring managers view you as a valuable asset with relevant skills and experience. To do so, it’s important to understand the concerns that employers might have in hiring someone with nontraditional experience.
“Why Should We Hire You?”
Your pitch should focus on the question of “Why should we hire you?” What skills and experience do you bring to the role that will positively impact both the organization and its customers?
The following tips can help you identify your transferrable experience, inspire confidence in employers, and position yourself for a successful career change:
They Want to Know: How You Stack Up Against Traditional Candidates
One of the biggest challenges you’re likely to face in changing careers is marketing yourself against other candidates with previous industry experience. If you don’t have that background, your transferrable skills should be the focus of your resume and your marketing approach.
Your transferrable skills include any experience, skills, or attributes that can be applied to the job regardless of industry. So while selling commercial cooking equipment to restaurants is specific – sales, customer service, and relationship building are broader skills that can be transferred across industries.
Think about prior instances where your transferrable skills were an integral part of solving a problem, overcoming a challenge, or creating a positive outcome on a project or account. Someone else might have a resume chock full of relevant experience, but if there’s nothing that particularly stands out about how they’ve used their skills, what they’ve accomplished, or how they’ve grown as a professional, an employer will be less than impressed.
Understanding the culture of an organization is also important, particularly in today’s workforce where remote work, open offices, and team collaboration are big factors. Employers want to hire people who get along with other staff members, can build positive relationships, and who understand the dynamics of the organization and its customers. Talk to others in your prospective field, follow thought leaders, and understand who the big industry players are.
They Want to Know: Your Transition Will Be Seamless
Hiring managers are responsible for identifying, qualifying, and recommending candidates who best embody the core qualifications for the job. Essentially, they are putting their reputation on the line when they select your resume and pass it along to their higher-ups for review. So it’s important to instill a sense of confidence that you will hit the ground running and be able to quickly adapt to the role with minimal training.
Most companies don’t have the time or resources to provide extensive on-the-job training and therefore look for candidates who will be able to transition seamlessly into the role. Even if you lack direct experience, show that you understand what’s expected of you and that you’re able to deliver. Cite examples in your resume of how you’ve had to adapt in other roles, when you’ve had to learn a new skill, or how you overcame a particular challenge that might be relevant.
They Want to Know: Hiring You is a Great Investment for Them
Hiring is a costly investment on which employers expect to see a return. Candidates with a solid track record of success in similar roles instill a sense of confidence that the investment in hiring them will pay off. But even if you don’t have direct experience, you can still articulate the value you bring through your transferrable skills and prior experience within other organizations.
An applicant who has a strong understanding of the organization’s culture, values, and objectives will stand out to hiring managers. Talk to other people who have worked for the organization to understand the company culture and what they look for in team members.
What are the goals of the organization (are they a startup looking to grow, a corporation adding a new division, a company looking to innovate in a stale space) – how can you help advance those goals through your own experience and skill set?
For example, a publishing company with a deep history in print might be looking to start up a digital division. Though your background is in software, perhaps you bring a strong understanding of what customers are looking for in a modern, affordable, digital product.
Or perhaps you’re targeting a fintech company that you don’t have experience for but you bring 20 years of financial expertise that can be valuable in ensuring that the company adheres to strict rules for compliance.
They Want to Know: You Won’t Go Ahead and Jump Ship Prematurely
One hesitation that employers often focus on when it comes to hiring someone breaking into a new field is the concern that they will use the position to gain experience and then move on as soon as they find a more ideal role. This is a common challenge for people coming from a mid or senior-level role in their current field who are vying for even an entry-level position to break into that new industry.
Despite your interest in simply gaining experience or getting a foot in the door, it can be difficult to quell the employer’s fear that if they hire you, you may end up jumping ship six months down the road for a better opportunity or higher-paying role.
Think about how you can address this issue, even if it’s not directly asked in the interview process. Talk about other instances where you’ve worked with an employer for a significant amount of time, have shown longevity, or have grown within the organization. Give them insight into why you decided to change careers in the first place, what is particularly attractive about this new industry, and especially what it is about their organization that piqued your interest in the role and becoming a part of the team.
More mature workers face particular challenges in marketing themselves to companies where the culture leans towards a younger demographic. This is often the case with startups where lack of structure, long working hours, and creativity are highly valued. Consider how your tenure and expertise can lend value to a younger working culture. Experienced professionals often bring unmatched knowledge and skill when it comes to managing teams, navigating challenges, and anticipating industry shifts.
Paint a picture for them of a loyal, committed employee who is interested in growing with an investing themselves with the organization. The goal, again, is to instill confidence that you’re looking for a long-term partnership that will provide a return on their hiring investment.
While there is no proven formula for making a successful career change, a key strategy is putting yourself in the shoes of your potential employer, understanding the concerns and interests they have in the hiring process, and speaking their language.
Create a self-marketing plan around those areas that you know will be of importance for your audience to address in the resume and interview process. Talk in specifics about how you’ve been successful in the past, the value you have to offer through your experience and skill set, and how you can directly contribute to the goals and challenges of the organization.
The end goal in the job search process is instilling confidence and interest in your audience, and articulating what will be the value and return on their decision to hire you. If you can manage to do that, chances are you have their attention.