Are you changing careers? Or considering it? Before you start applying, you’re going to need to do some work on your resume. The point of a resume is to land you an interview, so how do you make that happen, when you’re an “outsider,” up against people who have already been working in or training for your new field? It’s hard, but not impossible.
Your resume is going to have to convince others that you can play the part. So stop thinking about your resume in terms of a historical record of your achievements, and instead approach it as a document that supports your new objectives. Let me show you some key strategies.
Highlight transferable skills
Whether you’re wanting to change to a new role in the same industry or a whole new thing, you’ll want to focus on highlighting relevant projects, education, involvement in professional associations, volunteer work, and skills that will translate clearly into your new career.
And of course, state them in a way that is free of jargon from your previous or current work.
Who Are You?
Most people view their resume as who they have been. Look at the verb tense I used in that heading – present tense. You already decided you no longer want to be a data scientist, or an attorney, or a physician’s assistant. So who are you now? Look forward. Who do you want to be? Is there a common thread, or a way to repackage your past experience? For instance, rather than a data scientist, are you an analyst who has worked in science? Instead of an attorney, are you a technical writer who has worked in the legal field? Help paint a picture for your resume reader.
Keywords are key
I end up telling people this over and over. Look for opportunities to rephrase your past accomplishments and projects in the exact same terms that they use in their job posting or industry. This attests to you knowing the commonly used terms & concepts of your targeted career. If you’re looking to move into project management, are there ways you can attest to stakeholder communications, mitigating risks, effective use of resources, and tracking of milestones? Your resume needs to show that you really could do the job.
Emphasize the Big Picture
There are certain universal things that nearly every industry will take interest in. Make sure to call these out. Things like: effective communications and teamwork, initiating and spearheading new projects and programs, supervisory experience, or knowledge of a specific role or subject. Focus more on those generalities and spell out the details. Supervised a team of HOW MANY? Led all data analysis for an organization of WHAT SIZE? Successfully increased fundraising by HOW MANY DOLLARS? They know their current organization and industry, they might not know anything about yours. If you’re expecting them to connect the dots, they won’t. This also allows you to edit down or remove entirely the areas that are not going to be relevant or directly applicable.
Show (and also Tell)
Many career changers end up being self-taught in one thing or another but don’t know how to bring this up. There is absolutely no shame in being self-taught. First, it shows you have already committed to a new path. Second, it shows you take initiative and are capable of learning something new – two very powerful things for career changers. But you’ll need to show this in your resume. Taught yourself Adobe Creative Suite to apply as a graphic designer? Post your work online and link to your portfolio in your resume. Did you learn Moodle to be able to author and build an online course demo? Link to it as an example! And if you don’t have work to “show,” start and then link to a professional blog to start sharing your thoughts and your journey as you learn about your new career and profession.
Build Connections with People in the New Field
Career change is hard enough. So especially for career changers, you’ll need to rely on networking (via informational interviews) and referrals more than others who already work in that industry or for that company. Get yourself out there. Be sure you’re scheduling these and asking smart questions about the work, the company, the profession, and who else to talk with. And if done correctly, i.e., well in advance, to build authentic connections that are nurtured over time, you can even leverage these connections as references who can both alert you to openings and vouch for your interest in the field when you apply at their company.