Making the decision to change careers is a huge undertaking. Not only do you have to be willing to acquire new skills and step outside your comfort zone, but you also have to be able to sell your past experience to recruiters and hiring managers.
While the majority of this “selling” happens in person during interviews, a well-crafted resume is a key to getting yourself actually called in for one. Though tried-and-true resume rules still apply to career changers, there are definitely some special guidelines to consider, according to resume-writing pros.
Do your research
“It’s critical to talk to those who are in the careers you want to go into to find out what they would want to see in a resume,” says Denise Riebman, a career development specialist. What are the hot terms in the field right now? The most in-demand skills and relevant knowledge? These are things you need to find out, then incorporate into your resume where you can.
Highlight transferable skills
“When you’re changing careers, it’s assumed that your recent work experience will not perfectly align with the role you’re now targeting,” says Amanda Augustine, career advice expert for TopResume. “To ensure your resume isn’t immediately trashed by the ‘bots’ or a recruiter, you need demonstrate that you possess the skills necessary to do the job well, even if this new job isn’t a natural next step after your previous role.”
That’s where transferable skills come in. “Some transferable skills are universal, regardless of the field: leadership, communication, analytical skills, and many others,” Augustine says. But to find industry-specific ones, you’ll want to conduct informational interviews and review the job descriptions you’re targeting. Look for commonalities between the postings, and you should get a good idea of what skills hiring managers are looking for.
“If you need help, create a word cloud out of the job descriptions using a site like Wordle to identify which skills are emphasized the most across multiple job postings,” Augustine suggests.
Show, don’t tell
This is good advice for any resume, but it’s especially important for career changers. Why? Well, you’ll be able to not only highlight transferable skills, but also prove that you’re excellent at them.
“Use statistics and numbers to show concrete information about the value you bring,” recommends Dustin Polk, president and executive resume writer at Oracle Resumes. “Instead of just saying ‘developed and implemented innovative process improvements,’ say ‘increased operational efficiency and annual revenues by 13% by developing and implementing innovative process improvements.’ Show the value you bring, don’t just claim to bring it with nothing to back it up.”
Learn the lingo
“Each industry has its own jargon–terminology, acronyms, and initialisms that only make sense to people who are familiar with the field,” Augustine says. “It’s your job to figure out how to translate your experience and past successes into terms that will resonate with your new target audience. Subscribe to industry-specific publications and follow their social media accounts, set up Google alerts for some of the major players in the space, and attend trade shows and other events that are relevant to your target field to gain this insight. Then update your resume accordingly.”
Use your space wisely
“You don’t have unlimited space,” Polk points out. “You get one to two pages to fill with your most impressive accomplishments and qualifications.” Especially if you have a long job history in a previous career, this can be difficult to enforce.
“Many people will turn into a sort of hoarder when writing their resume,” Polk says. “You can’t fit 18 bullet points of details for a job you had in 2002. It’s barely relevant, and a busy hiring manager won’t read it. If they want extreme details on the things you’ve done, your resume has already done its job, and you’ll be getting a call for an interview. Keep it clear, concise, and as relevant to your new industry as possible.”
Put education in the right place
Most resume advice tells you that once you’re a few years out of school, you should move your education down to the bottom of your resume. This is true for the most part, but there’s an important exception career changers may want to consider. “If you recently earned a degree relevant to your new field, place your education section before your experience section,” Polk recommends. “Make sure they see that new degree. If it came with a designation, put that with your name at the top of the page, i.e. ‘John Smith, MBA.’ ”
Choose your format wisely
Sometimes, a functional resume–one that highlights skills above job history and is generally not chronological–is recommended for career changers, as it allows candidates to showcase what they choose. “While I strongly discourage professionals from using a functional resume format, some career changers find it easy to present their marketable skills in this structure,” Augustine says. “A word of caution: Recruiters despise this resume format and most applicant tracking systems (ATS) have difficulty reading and parsing your resume’s information when it’s presented this way.” That means you could automatically get rejected just for using the wrong resume format.
The consensus among experts? Stick with a chronological format, providing more or less detail for each job, depending on how transferable your responsibilities and accomplishments were.
Remember that you’re more than your resume
Having a great resume is no doubt important, but when you’re a career changer, there are things that matter more. “Especially when you are making a career shift, connecting with people in the field through authentic relationship building can give you a leg up, so that someone is willing to take a chance on you–no matter what is on your resume,” Riebman points out.