Changing careers is an exciting time and often requires you to write a new resume and cover letter.
While it may appear easier to just adapt your old resume, I recommend starting from scratch. This allows you to update the way you talk about your work (making sure you aren’t carrying irrelevant points to a fresh start) and brings new energy to the search. It can be hard to make an older document sound good and often people get frustrated and just allow the entire document to sound bland.
Resumes aren’t supposed to suck.
When changing careers you need to use a new language in your resume
Your old resume likely came from using your previous job descriptions as the foundation. That job was written in the language of your previous sector and company, and it won’t sound like the new target position. One obstacle in career transitions is re-branding yourself to not sound like the old sector.
Instead of trying to adapt what you have, it’s wiser to know what you offer and connect that with what a company desires. You want to use a mix of your natural communication style and word-choice and your target role’s linguistical preference.
Figure out your career brand first
Many people decide to change their career direction long before they do it. It may feel like the first move is to write a resume, but that happens 80% into the career change process.
Before you write your resume, you need to:
- Know your career brand story (get started here)
- Love yourself and know you have incredible skills and value
- Test and experiment with different options and then make a decision about what ideal work is for you
- Build your network in the industry
If you do these steps first, resume writing will be a breeze. You’ll know what you’re great at and what you’re highlighting, and you’ll know the language and expectations of your ideal job.
How to show this on your career transition resume
Every career transition resume has at least five parts. A profile, select accomplishments, work experience, education, and volunteer/community involvement.
Career Transition Resume, The Resume Profile:
The resume profile is three lines. The first line is a scope statement to highlight your overall career story. The second line highlights one skill from your career story cards and two skills from their job ad. The final line is a splash of your personality. If I was a master marshmallow maker transitioning to project management, my resume profile might look like this:
Project Manager who has enjoyed 15+ years working in large scale convection production. Recognized as a creative who spots opportunities to improve operations, mentors with inspiration, and keeps projects inline. Casual workstyle combined with being deadline-driven (maybe an oxymoron, but it’s worked so far).
In this example, the words from the job ad are project manager, operations, and deadline-driven. But it doesn’t read as flat because there is personality in the other sections (and even a joke).
Career Transition Resume, Select Accomplishments
Share stories from your career stories cards and examples inspired by reading the job ad in this section. Typically, you share three to five accomplishments stories that hook the reader to keep reading more. Select accomplishments cannot be plucked from previous job descriptions, but you may find them in old performance reviews. These stories are the ones that get the reader excited about what you can do in the job. They can come from any time in your career but work best if some are recent.
Career Transition Resume, Work Experience
This is where you show where you have worked, how long, and the difference you made in each job that is related to the job you are applying for. You work from the most recent job to previous jobs. How far you go back depends on the job you are applying for. A coach who used to teach drama may include work from 25 years ago. An accountant who used to be a chef may go back 10 years if the early jobs were just terms or casual.
This is usually the longest section of the resume. It is a mix of your career story and the words the job ad needs you to hit.
Career Transition Resume, Education and Training
Share your formal and informal education here. This section should not just be a degree you got in the early 2000s. It should have some sort of training from the past 3 years, even if it was an online course. This shows the reader that you are keeping your knowledge base fresh. It’s often helpful to take some type of training that is popular in your newly chosen sector. It doesn’t need to be an entire degree or certificate but show you invest in yourself.
Career Transition Resume, Volunteer/community involvement
The last section to include is work that you do to help in the community. In almost any sector, a person who does volunteer work is seen as a higher quality candidate than someone who does not. If you’re applying to an organization that strongly supports a cause, this becomes more important and should not be empty. Your volunteer work may not show up as a formal volunteer role. If you mentor someone informally or review resumes for free for your LinkedIn connections, you can list that as volunteer work.
Writing A Career Change Cover Letter
Write a cover letter for every job you apply for. The cover letter has five main sections. It’s good to remember that you don’t write the resume to get read, it might. You write it to make sure it’s the right job to apply for and have quality interview notes.
Career Change Cover Letter: the opener
The opening section is where you let the dream company know how awesome they are. Don’t start it by talking about yourself. I liken it to a love letter. If I were to write a love letter to my husband, it should open with everything I admire about him. I don’t want to start it with “with my previous partners I enjoyed…”
Use this space to share why you are so excited about the role and what you love about them.
Career Change Cover Letter: the skills
This second section is where you can talk about yourself. Reiterate the skills you mentioned in the resume. Some hiring people read the resume and not the cover letter. Some read the cover letter and no resume. Some read both, so keep it consistent. This part is just a few sentences.
Career Change Cover Letter: the story
This a great place to drop a memorable story. Share a story that:
- connects to their needs (as stated in the job ad)
- showcases the three skills you mentioned in the skills section
- has sticky details that help them remember you
Career Change Cover Letter: the leaving story
This section is where you explain why you’re looking for a new job. You can talk about why you’re thinking about leaving your current company or why you are unemployed. It helps them to understand why you’re ready to make a move.
Career Change Cover Letter: the hook
The last part is one last opportunity to show you understand their needs and company and that you want to help.
Create a new resume and cover letter for every job you go for.
Every time you apply for a new opportunity, follow these steps. You can see now how knowing your skills, your value, and your story makes this process easier for you. You don’t have to think about your core career brand story each time, you know it.
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