Explaining a career change on your resume can seem difficult. Trust me, I know what it’s like. You sit down in front of your computer screen, open your resume in a word processor and notice that your brain is peppering you with a litany of questions:
How much of your (now seemingly irrelevant) work history should you include?
How to demonstrate that you, despite your lack of experience in the new field/role/industry, are a great candidate for the role?
Should you even bother with a career change? After all, you have a specialisation (e.g., sales manager) – why waste time on a lateral move (e.g., operations manager)?
To explain your career transition you must demonstrate to potential employers how skills and experience you’ve accumulated in your previous career make you the best candidate for your next job.
You begin this process by reverse-engineering the job description.
Let me show you how it’s done by using the example I provided earlier – one of a sales manager who is interested in a career transition to a more rounded operations management role.
A quick search on Seek.com brings up a long list of jobs in sales and operations. Let’s take a closer look at them.
The Sales Manager.
Here are the skills mentioned in job ads for a sales manager.
TEAM: Extensive experience in coaching and developing sales teams;
IMPROVEMENT: Ability to drive continuous capability improvements and effectively manage change;
LEADERSHIP: Energetic, inspirational and strategic leader, having established credibility and brand presence in your career;
STAKEHOLDER MANAGEMENT: Enjoy the challenges of working cross-functionally across the business to address problems;
RESULTS-DRIVEN: Demonstration of solution-oriented, free-thinking individual who is a self-motivated top performer;
The Operations Manager.
Now let’s see which skills are listed as pre-requisites in ads for operations managers.
TEAM: Coaching and developing the team to improve capability and delivery of services;
IMPROVEMENT: Applicants must be committed to continuous improvement and energised by the innovation;
LEADERSHIP: Strong people and operations leader with a bias to action and urgency to see plans through;
STAKEHOLDER MANAGEMENT: Exceptional Relationship Management skills to work with internal and external stakeholders;
RESULTS-DRIVEN: Driving results to ensure business unit KPIs and targets are achieved;
Are you seeing what I’m seeing? Transferable skills are basically a roll-call of your capabilities as a professional and are your secret weapon during a career transition.
Step 2: Position Yourself For The New Job.
The next step in preparing for a career change involves ensuring that your skills are a match for those listed as pre-requisites in the job description.
Here’s how you do it:
Analyse the job description for all the skills required;
Look at each skill and try to re-word it so it is sector-agnostic;
Compare these skills to your own experience and qualifications;
If there’s no obvious link, try to find the similarities between the two;
Consider what your responsibilities would be if you got the new job – what have you done in the past that is similar to this?
Finally, pick specific examples to back up your skill. Don’t just say “I’m a good team leader”. Instead, relate your skill to the outcome – “I led a 6-person team to deliver a 7% reduction in costs in an 18 month period.”
Also, don’t ignore skills you’ve picked up in your personal life.
For example, you might have coached a sports team, or been involved in training volunteers.
Even extensive periods of travel can offer demonstrable proof of a vital skill or capability. Other skills that are commonly derived from extracurricular activities include:
Now that you know what your transferable skills are let’s look at how to communicate them to recruiters via your resume.
Step 3: Adjust Your Resume.
Let me go through each section of your resume and explain what you need to do.
Instead of using your professional profile to showcase specific outcomes you’ve engineered within a sector, focus on the results you delivered for your organisation and relate those to similar results your potential employer would be looking for.
For example, instead of saying “I doubled the number of satellite TV subscribers in 18 months” you might say “I implemented a new marketing strategy that doubled our customer base in just 18 months”.
Removing the specifics usually makes the skill transferable.
Key Asset Grid.
I’m a big fan of using the Key Asset Grid that is arranged in a matrix-style layout – it’s a feature we build into resumes of all clients who purchase our resume writing services.
I recommend that you do the same.
To ensure that the Key Asset Grid supports your career transition, pick out the transferable assets (skills) and make sure to put them at the front of the matrix.
Rewriting your responsibilities to remove the context is a key technique in making sure that your skills are transferable. For example:
“16 years in marketing financial services” becomes “16 years marketing experience”
“Worked closely with heads of Programming, UX and Design to improve usability for our SaaS” becomes “Worked closely with department heads to improve customer experience.”
“Created business plans for home-loan products and conducted market research on credit services” becomes “Expert in market analysis and business planning.”
In fact, more often than not, these results are the same – regardless of industry. For example:
“Implemented a new accounts system that reduced late payments by 35%” becomes “Reduced late payments by 35%, by implementing new accounting protocols.”
“Used Basecamp to improve inter-communication between teams” becomes “Improved cross-disciplinary communication by implementing a collaboration culture.”
“Increased audience numbers via new media buys“ becomes “Increased audience reach by researching and deploying new distribution channels.”
For each achievement, focusing on the result first, then back it up with evidence. It’s a subtle, but enormously important distinction.
Adding a couple of lines about each of the organisations you’ve worked for is useful for giving your experience context.
If you’re moving industries focus on the size, scale and reach of the companies you’ve worked for (instead of what they actually do).
For example, if you’ve led a $30M t/o division with 150 staff, focus on these aspects rather than what industry that company was in.
Bonus Step 1: Adjust Your Cover Letter.
To ensure your resume helps you navigate your career change, you need to remember that it works in conjunction with your cover letter.
In fact, the cover letter allows you to address the ‘elephant in the room’ that is your career change head-on.
Instead of hoping that the recruiter won’t notice that your background is, for example, in engineering and you’re applying for a post in hospitality, draw logical comparisons between the two.
Example 1: you’re an engineer seeking a position in hospitality:
“Whilst engineering may seem quite different to hospitality, the actual mechanics of the work are remarkably similar. My extensive background in project scoping helps me to recognise and forecast potential problems before they appear, whilst my knowledge of implementing supply-chain solutions would support cost reductions across the organisation.”
Example 2: you’re a consultant with a big firm seeking a more senior in-house position in a smaller firm:
“Although a great deal of my experience is gained in corporate environments, my day-to-day responsibilities centred around smaller, more entrepreneurial projects. I was continually recognised for my ability to bring proven corporate strategies to less rigid environments and support small teams during the implementation.”
Bonus Step 2: Adjust Your LinkedIn Profile.
Your LinkedIn profile is a place where you can explain your career change in more anecdotal and creative ways. It’s also a place to showcase your transferable skills through a use of analogies.
It’s also a place to showcase your transferable skills through a use of analogies.
For example, it’s perfectly acceptable to use the story of your first sky-dive to demonstrate how you are fearless in the face of extreme challenges. (In fact, in many cases, this will help you stand out from the other candidates).
Alternatively, you can use using your experience as a sportsperson, musician, speaker or non-executive director to provide the platform from which you showcase your transferable skills:
“Playing in my local cricket team reminds me that sport is an exciting mixture of strategic thinking, team effort and exploiting individual opportunities when they arise. I practise these skills on the pitch so I’m able to approach business problems with both a strategic and tactical approach to deliver the result that the team needs.”
Key Point To Remember.
A resume that clearly articulates your transferrable skills is your secret weapon during a career change.
It’s likely that you have a huge number of transferable skills. You just need to view them in a more strategic light. For example, at first glance, it might seem that social media and credit card processing have little in common.
In short, rather than emphasising the specifics of your skills, consider:
Results – what result did you deliver?
Achievements – how do your achievements demonstrate how transferable your skills are?
Responsibilities – describe how your responsibilities broaden your skill set
Above all, remember that the context of your skills is the factor that will appear to narrow your experience. Keep it results-focused and achievement-based to navigate your career change successfully and land a new position in no time.