Resumes & Cover Letters

Writing a strong cover letter when changing careers

Written by Kate Lopaze

Changing careers can be seriously challenging. Once you’ve made the already tough decision to go for something new, you will likely then have new realities staring you in the face, like a lack of experience or hard skills. But rather than fall prey to the biggest catch-22 of job seeking (you need experience to get a job, and you need a job to get experience), there are plenty of things you can do with your application package to position yourself better.

Your resume is, basically, what it is. You’ll group your skills and experience in a way that matches the job description. But the cover letter is your chance to set the narrative tone to let readers know who you are and what you bring.

Let’s take a look at how to construct an ideal letter to let future employers know what you have to offer.

The opening: avoid clichés

Your cover letter is valuable real estate—most recruiters spend mere seconds scanning a letter before they decide to keep going or ignore. A reader’s eyes are going to start glazing over the moment they see something like, “I’m the perfect person for this job,” or “I am pleased for the opportunity to apply for this position.”

Instead, catch their attention fast. Start with a question (“What do you do when you realize that you’ve been on the wrong career path all along?”) or an interesting bit of information about you (“As a lifelong fan of the mime arts, I have decided it’s high time to follow my passion.”). It doesn’t have to be anything crazy, but should be something that makes the reader want to keep going.

The pitch: talk about yourself

Introduce yourself, but make sure to keep it short and sweet. What are the most essential facts about yourself or your career that apply to the job you want? This is not where you go into a detailed history of your career. Because you’re changing your career, you want to emphasize what relevant qualities you’re bringing to this job.

You should also include a few sentences about why you’re changing careers. You don’t need to avoid the subject—remember, you’re trying to give context for your resume, which may not have a wealth of experience. Instead, embrace it. Were you a marketer who always wanted to teach art? Did your surfing hobby make you want to manage a beachfront beach wax emporium? This is your chance to open up about your personal connection to the job you’re seeking. But again, remember—keep it short and to the point.

And don’t apologize. If you’re lacking in experience because you’re new to the field, apologizing or calling attention to your lack of experience sets an insecure tone. Talking about why you’ve decided to change, and what you’re bringing with you, sets a better tone.

The wind-down: emphasize your skills

Once you’ve covered your experience (or your personal origin story as it pertains to your career change), it’s time to emphasize the skills you most want the recruiter or hiring manager to see. This is a good place to highlight the soft skills that you’re porting over from your past or current career (such as leadership, creativity, or problem-solving). Turn those skills into a bullet-pointed narrative that the reader will consider as they read your resume, making sure to discuss how each is relevant to the new job you seek.

The closing: Finish strong

Your closing should reiterate what you bring to this job. Instead of emphasizing that it would be a learning experience for you as a newbie on your changed career path, remind the reader what you already have. For example, “I look forward to talking with you about how my passion and long experience as an innovator can benefit your team.”

Your overall letter should be about a page, tops. Remember: you’re trying to catch someone’s attention, but also get them to keep reading. Long blocks of unbroken text make the latter unlikely. An upbeat tone, concise writing, and a focus on what you bring to this new job should help you smooth over any concerns about your experience or newness. Good luck!

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.