How to effectively navigate the difficulty of a career change

So, you’re thinking about embarking on a career change?

A career change is a very big step that is not to be taken lightly. Not only are you changing jobs but you are changing the type of job that you are doing. Traditionally, employers always have looked to hire people with sizeable experience in a similar job.  It is for this reason that the career change process can prove to be difficult and at times, extremely frustrating. It can often take a long time to find the employer that is willing to take a flyer on you. We are talking many, many months. However, there are a number of steps that you can take to speed up the process. Below I outline these steps for you and explain how each can provide you with an additional advantage, in order for you to break new ground!

Gain as much relevant experience and as many relevant qualifications as you can!

The first major obstacle that you need to navigate in your career change is lack of relevant work experience. I would at first recommend searching for advertisements of jobs that you are hoping to transition into. Make a note of the skills and qualifications that employers are looking for on these and think of the ways that you can rectify the relevant gaps in your resume.

Fortunately, a number of the things that employers require for a given role can be gained from outside of the workplace. For example, you can gain relevant skills by completing online courses and study. Another example is provided courtesy of the availability of seminars and networking events. From these you can learn from experts and broaden your industry knowledge. Industry knowledge can similarly be gained by voluntarily shadowing those in the line of work you wish to be in. Some employers may require evidence of practical ability i.e. in writing or design. Therefore in this instance you could create your own webpage or blog to display this first-hand. The list goes on.

Such activity will help you gain additional valuable knowledge and skills, that will in turn help you compile a more compelling resume to employers. In addition, you are providing tangible evidence of traits such as a strong work ethic, dedication, and willingness to learn. These are traits that are desirable to any employer. It is therefore this general activity that might just convince the hiring manager to overlook limited relevant experience and offer you a chance at interview. Put the work in and you will see the rewards much sooner than you would without having done so! 

The importance of a carefully constructed CV  

Having gained all of this additional relevant experience and skill, it is crucial that your CV sufficiently highlights them to the recruiter. Typically, recruiters will only spend 30-45 seconds looking at a CV. This is why you have to initially grab their attention quickly.

In very first line of your initial profile you must clearly state your career change intentions. Make clear that you are determined to move away from your current industry and into the one to which you are applying. I would then spend the next few lines detailing why it is you wish to move into the industry. Also in this section mention briefly how you have attended talks/seminars, carried out work experience/volunteer work, attained qualifications etc. However save the detail on this for later and aim to limit the initial profile to five lines maximum.

Devote the next section to industry relevant experience/qualifications. It is now in this section that I would go into detail about all the extra work you have done. Have each qualification or event attended as a separate bullet point. This will make it easy to read (remember recruiters are unfortunately prone to skim reading!). Also, again keep this section concise. I would say 150/200 words maximum.

Below this have your work history that bullet points the important skills required and responsibilities held in your previous jobs. For someone looking to change industry, I would focus on skills rather than responsibilities. Specifically focus on emphasising the skills that the employer for the role you wish to attain will really value. Put the most transferrable skills as the first bullet points that they see for each job. For example if you work in IT Support but want to get into sales, you would highlight the relevant sales skills you showed in that job i.e. confidence speaking over the phone and success up-selling company products to customers. The other, less relevant skills such as programming languages you use or effective customer service would come after. By structuring the work history like this, you won’t give the recruiter the chance to miss your most transferable skills from past employment!

A well written cover letter in this instance is a must

Written correctly, a cover letter can provide a nice complimentary boost to your CV. However, if you get it wrong it will hold little weight and prove a waste of time. The first way to ensure you avoid the latter is to keep your cover letter short and concise! There is no reason for the covering letter to be much more than half a page of A4.

Another key thing is to tailor every covering letter you submit, to the company and role to which you are applying. This is time consuming but so worth it. Let’s say you submit ten personalised cover letters as opposed to fifty generalised ones. You will very likely receive greater response from the ten than you do from the fifty. I would be surprised if you received any response from a generalised cover letter. Personalisation employers really appreciate as it shows that you have taken the time to research the company and actually form a compelling argument as to why you would be a good fit there.

Moving on now to content, focus on key personality traits as opposed to skills/qualifications. Skills and qualifications are stated on your CV and regurgitating them onto a covering letter doesn’t add anything. I would also say that we are aware that in this area you are at a distinct disadvantage. So why highlight this in the cover letter? Instead, focus on highlighting key personality traits of yours that seem to align well with those of the company you are applying to. You can gain a good idea of traits they seem to value from their jobs descriptions, information on their website and any news/blog posts focusing on the company. You cannot easily infer personality through a CV. So use this chance awarded via the cover letter to explain the personality that you would bring to the office!

The difficulty of getting noticed when applying speculatively

There are hiring managers out there such as Richard Branson, who value drive and personality above anything else. He has stated before that you can easily train someone on the skills required for a given role, yet training someone to attain the right personality is significantly more difficult! However, be warned that these types of hiring managers are unfortunately in a minority. The large majority of recruiters have it drilled into them that relevant, on the job experience is a necessity. This dictates that your speculative applications will be discarded by a lot of recruiters which can understandably be totally demoralising.

You have the available tools to gain a leg up…so use them!

There is a simple way around this though. One of the greatest tools at your disposal is your network of contacts. Reach out to friends operating in the industry you desire to be a part of. It is estimated by ichard Alderson, founder of careers advice service Careershift that between 50% to 60% of vacancies aren’t actively advertised online. Get your contact to put in a good word for you. See if there is an opening for you that you wouldn’t otherwise know about! Another benefit Alderson sees is that these conversations will convey knowledge and enthusiasm that can’t always come across from a piece of paper. Essentially having these conversations greatly boosts your chances of attaining an interview. This is because it allows you the chance to present a more extensive and attractive profile of yourself through your contact’s referral.

Additionally another person that has the ability to give you a leg up is a trusted agency recruiter. A good recruiter will take the time to listen to what you are looking for and offer another possible shortcut for you. Having the good relationships that we with internal recruiters and hiring managers we work, with means that they really value our opinion on candidates. We can push them to overlook concerns over lack of relevant experience and secure you an interview.

Conclusion: take all these steps in tandem and give yourself the best chance of breaking new ground!

Switching careers is a tough task with the odds stacked against you but providing you remain resilient and determined you will get there. It’s always worth thinking long term with a career change. The struggle you experience early on is worth it for the reward once you attain the role you desire so badly. All the steps outlined throughout this post are necessary to limit the early pains and see that you reach your goal quickly as soon as possible. So follow our advice and with any luck you’ll be where you want to be in a matter of months. We hope this helps!

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