There’s a pervasive and convincing lie circulating through colleges and workplaces everywhere: You get an education in a certain field (formal or otherwise) and then work in that field until you retire or collapse on your desk one day. A career change is not an option.
Unfortunately, this belief causes a lot of distress for people who desire a career change. They believe they’ve invested their resources in a certain area, and shifting to a new field means starting from scratch. Yes, this process often does mean backtracking at least a bit. But it’s not like you revert to being a newborn. Making a change simply means applying your knowledge and experience to a new area and filling in the gaps as needed.
How to Positively Explain Your Career Change
Thankfully, landing an interview means you succeeded in selling your experience on paper, so you’re well on your way in the career-changing transition process. Now, your job is to help an employer see the value that your experience will bring to the team. Read on to see how you can do exactly that.
1. Know Your Worth
If you’re going to convince a new employer you’re the best candidate for a job, you have to believe it yourself first. When you value yourself, you start to describe your work history and experience in another language. Start by writing out everything you do, in detail. Include all of your tasks and your accomplishments. This will help you to see your experience in a fluid way that can apply to many settings. You weren’t a “customer service representative for Caris’ Cupcake Emporium;” you were someone who “assisted customers with orders, promoted new products and services, and addressed customer complaints professionally.” Learn to spin your past positions in this way, and you’ll find it much easier to explain how your work history lends itself to the transition you’re seeking.
Examples paint a picture of your experience and abilities for an employer, versus answering questions with a hypothetical, “Well in that situation, I think I would…” With a career change in particular, examples help an employer understand how your experience fits into a new role.
So when asked about working with customers, for example, incorporate an anecdote about your interactions with people from your current or previous jobs, even if those people weren’t customers, per se. Then, explain how you would put that experience to work in your new role. The skills you used to manage conflict with a co-worker or to explain a difficult concept to management are the same ones you would use with customers, after all. If asked about problem-solving, talk about a time you actually worked through a conundrum or came up with an innovative solution. Even if the industry was entirely different, the ability to think critically and problem-solve speaks volumes of your competence level. When you provide examples, an employer knows you’ve actually done the things you’re claiming, and that ought to give you a leg up in the interview process.
2. Provide Evidence of Experience
Go out of your way to show an employer—literally—that you’re capable of taking on this new role by bringing evidence with you. This might include sample work, training certificates, or a mock grant proposal, marketing plan, or something else that makes your abilities concrete. Are you shifting into a writing-heavy field like communications or journalism? Bring writing samples. It’s OK if you haven’t written a news story; a well-written annual report still demonstrates your mastery of language and ability to weave complex details into a coherent whole.