If you’re currently considering a career change, you’re probably finding that the gap between where you are and where you want to be feels more like a gaping chasm. And you’re no doubt wondering how on earth you’re going to prove to an employer that you’re a good fit for a role you’re under-qualified for (at least on paper).
Fortunately, there’s a way to shrink that gap: by drawing recruiters’ attention to your transferable skills. These are strengths and abilities honed in previous jobs that can also be applied to other (distinct) positions – skills like time management, problem-solving and research.
To make these softer competencies work for you, it’s important that you build a resume and cover letter that clearly calls them out. In other words, you need to do the work of making the connections between your background and the job at hand for hiring managers.
Here’s how to put together a job application that’ll support a successful career jump.
Identify your relevant transferable skills
For every position you apply for, first carefully consider which of your transferable skills are most worth highlighting. Start by examining the job description and picking out required competencies listed there that you feel confident you possess. Ask yourself, “Which of the skills that I developed in job/industry A will be useful in job/industry B?” Think about strengths you’ve gained from side gigs and hobbies too – these are equally valuable.
Use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to your advantage
When choosing words to describe your transferable skills, bear in mind that the ATSs that many companies use to screen resumes rely heavily on keywords. If you match your wording to the language used in the job ad precisely, you improve your chances of being identified as a match and potentially landing an interview.
Consider how best to demonstrate your skills
It’s all well and good to say you’re an analytical thinker or team player, but you need to convince employers of this claim. How? By quantifying your transferable skills and illustrating how you’ve applied them previously. Think about past accomplishments and objectives you met in former roles, and express these in numbers as proof that you can do what you say you can. The idea is to impress employers enough to shift attention away from your inadequate employment record.
Give your transferable skills a leading role in your resume
There are a number of ways you can draw attention to transferable skills in your resume. Pick the route that feels right for you.
Change up your resume format
One way to make sure your relevant strengths are noticed is to create a combination resume, which first lists your key transferable skills, backed by accomplishments, and only then details your work history in reverse chronological order. Alternatively, you could opt for a nonchronological functional resume, which sorts competencies into categories, with examples, achievements, and experience listed as bullet points below each header. It’s a good way to keep the focus off your career path, but be warned—the absence of specific details might frustrate recruiters.
Separate out your relevant skills and experience
If you’re concerned your transferable skills might get lost on your resume, then give them their own sub-section. Divide ‘Key Skills’ into ‘Related Skills’ and ‘Other Skills’ and, similarly, split up ‘Work Experience’ into ‘Related Experience’ and ‘Additional Experience.
Start with an objective statement
Instead of a summary statement, kick off your resume with an objective statement that explicitly addresses the fact that you’re changing careers and highlights how your skills will travel well into this new industry. A statement like this should positively impact the lens through which recruiters read the rest of your resume. While the resume objective statement is for the most part dead, the one time it’s okay to is in a career shift situation.
Shift the focus of your cover letter
Good news is, if you’re battling to communicate how well your skills translate in your resume, you have another chance to do so in your cover letter. Just remember the following:
Concentrate on the skills you do have
It may feel necessary to acknowledge your lack of industry experience in your cover letter, but rather than focusing on the negatives, use this precious space to highlight the value you can bring. Show how confident you are about your ability to do the job by getting straight to those invaluable transferable skills of yours.
Use a format that gives prominence to your transferable skills
While most candidates will opt for a more traditional letter format that outlines their work history, if you’re changing careers, it makes more sense to structure the letter around your relevant abilities. Pick three or four key transferable skills you possess and organize the body of your cover letter around them – you could even dedicate a paragraph to each and call them out with bolded subheadings.
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