It’s not uncommon to dream about a career change at some point in life. For many of us though, we negotiate with ourselves about the value and risk of pursuing it and often tell ourselves it’s not worth it.
Even if the dream remains alive, considering the first steps can be discouraging. Updating or writing a new cover letter can be overwhelming if you haven’t had to do it in years.
It can also be your biggest asset.
Have you ever applied for a position and received an automated response saying you’re not qualified? This happens all the time for people who are applying to jobs within the same industry. It can be even more frustrating when you’re changing careers.
It makes you want to tell the recruiter, “I know my qualifications aren’t a perfect match, but my skills can apply and I’m really passionate about this. Just give me a shot!”.
This is the exact thing you should be keeping in mind as you write your career change cover letter. Use it as a tool to describe what you wish you could tell a recruiter before they even review your resume. Continue reading and we’ll show you exactly how to do it.
In this article, we’ll discuss:
Why people pursue a career change.
How to explain a career change on a cover letter.
Step-by-step instructions for writing a cover letter for a career change.
Why change your career?
There are so many reasons to pursue a career change. If you’re looking into it, chances are you relate to at least one of the following categories.
Burnout is the word used to describe an utter lack of motivation. Far from lethargy, burnout could be summarized by the phrase, “Reaching your breaking point”. While anyone can be affected by burnout, it tends to have higher rates in certain fields. Hospitality, food services, social services, and nonprofits are the frontrunners in staff burnout. Burnout often encourages people to pursue a career change because the issue is usually endemic to the industry. One day it occurs to you that the world will never be in short supply of rude customers, that you’ll never receive a wage worthy of the energy you put in, or that despite your hard work, you’ll never rise in the ranks. This, my friend, is called burnout.
Outgrowing your role
While some dream of climbing the corporate ladder, the reality is that not all fields are designed for professional growth. Customer service agents have one of the toughest jobs, and depending on the company, the start of the road and the finish line might look the same. Similarly in the field of education, you might be the best fourth-grade teacher in the whole school district, but unless you want to move into a principal role or college professor, there isn’t going to be a huge shift in your daily duties. For people craving that mix-up, a career change might be on the horizon.
There is a social norm of encouraging young adults to pick their career route with the understanding that it is forever. For some people, it ends up being everything they’d hoped for. For most people, it means changing careers once they’ve experienced a bit more life and learned about their own identity. People grow, and as we grow, we tend to change. It might seem scary, but honoring yourself and taking the risk to follow your dreams is something that should be celebrated.
Possibly the most common reason for a career change is that you need to be making more money. As hard as it can be to make this decision, the truth is that some industries will always be higher paying than others. If you are contemplating a career change because of financial reasons, know that it is entirely valid.
If you resonate with this, read more about how to change your career.
How do you explain a career change in a cover letter?
Writing a cover letter for any position can feel a bit clumsy. What does the recruiter want to hear? Should I make it short and sweet, or thorough and detailed? Are cover letters even read by anyone?
When you bring a career change into the mix, it can feel even more uncertain. Keep these tips in mind as you consider the information you want to add when describing your career change in a cover letter.
The most important thing to remember is to be honest. There is no shame in changing careers, and recruiters understand that just because you have limited experience in the new industry, doesn’t mean you don’t possess any experience. Later on, we’ll discuss transferable skills, and how you are likely more qualified for the new role than you expect.
The ‘ah-ha!’ moment
There is a natural curiosity that comes when hearing about someone’s career change. Mostly, people want to know what inspired it. A cover letter is an excellent tool for opening up the conversation.
Keep in mind that the goal is to highlight your professional skills, so this isn’t the place to tell your life story. But a few insightful sentences can set the scene so that the recruiter isn’t left with questions about why, for example, a project manager is applying for a position as a medical scribe.
Hiring someone is as much about their qualifications as it is their passion for the job. The best part about meeting with someone who is pursuing a career change is that they are usually sure-footed and excited about their new prospect. Let your enthusiasm shine!
You’re not alone, many people are reinventing themselves for a new job.
6 Steps to writing a cover letter for a career change
Every cover letter should start with a professional heading. If your resume has a specific style or format, match your cover letter to it.
A few lines down, the following section should all be aligned on the left of the page.
Start with today’s date, written out (Ex. August 2, 2022).
Press enter three times, then write the name of the recruiter. On the next line down, write their title. Below that, write the company’s full name, and in the following two lines write out their address. If you don’t know the name or title of the recipient, begin this section with the company name and address.
You can almost always find the name of the company’s recruiter online. Look up the company website and visit their LinkedIn. It makes you stand out to take this extra step and your effort will likely be rewarded.
Press enter two more times. Here is where the introduction begins. If you know the name of the recruiter, write it out in a simple, “Dear Ms. Booth:”. Take note of the use of a colon after the recipient's name. A colon is more appropriate than a comma in a professional heading.
If you don’t know the recipient’s name, instead write “Dear Hiring Manager:”.
Avoid using the outdated salutation, “To Whom It May Concern:”.
September 13, 2022
Dear Hiring Manager:
2. Back story
After your heading and greeting, it’s time to get into the body of your cover letter. Fight the urge to introduce your name in the first sentence (“My name is Jack Johnson and I’m a marketing consultant”).
Instead, begin with a strong power statement.
“Bringing 12 years of marketing experience and proven expertise in fiscal management in the medical supply industry, with a strong history of success in fostering strategic partnerships.”
Looking at the statement above, the candidate is well positioned to catch the eye of a recruiter by stating that they are already a high-achieving individual in a corporate field. They’re likely competent with budgeting software, have a business mindset, are an expert in sales and marketing, and understand the value of networking. All of these would be considered transferable skills.
Check out our article on how to identify your transferable skills.
3. Transferable skills
What exactly are transferable skills? Basically, any skill that you learned from working in one field or industry which can be applied to a different industry is a transferable skill. You can think of these as qualifications that would benefit you in a variety of positions.
There are direct and indirect transferable skills.
Direct transferable skills are when you complete the exact same tasks in different environments. Examples would be customer service, bookkeeping, or the use of a specific software program. These are generally hard skills.
Indirect skills require a bit more creativity to apply to a new environment. You might lean into this type of transferable skill if you’re making a larger change than just doing a similar role in a new industry. These skills show an aptitude for ingenuity and application of the whole of your skills.
Learn more about impressing employers with your soft skills.
To give an example of how to describe indirect transferable skills, let’s consider someone transitioning from a labor position to an office job.
Labor skills include:
Installation of a part or system.
Adherence to the client's timeframe.
Working within the client's budget.
Ability to read blueprints and write contractor notes.
Problem-solving under pressure.
How to rephrase them for an office position:
Meticulous attention to detail.
Consistently meets deadlines established by the team lead.
Fiscal management on large-scale projects.
Excellent communication, both written and verbal.
Able to adapt quickly and respond to changes seamlessly, whether acting independently or as part of a team.
If you’ve been keeping up with the standards of resume writing, you’ve probably heard the word deliverables. These are hard numbers that justify your skill.
As you can see from the examples below, deliverables take a skill and present it in the context of an achievement. Before writing your next cover letter, sit down and brainstorm at least three examples of deliverables that can display your transferable skills with more depth.
“Helped create marketing material in order to increase sales.”
“Drove sales, increasing by 20% for three consecutive months, by deploying a rebranding rollout paired with lead generation, SEO, and other B2B marketing techniques.”
“Led a team of seven direct reports, two interns, and oversight of 35 frontline staff.”
“Budgeted for my department.”
“Surpassed annual fiscal goals, increasing profit margins by 15% quarterly.”
5. Be forward thinking
The point of writing a career change cover letter is to show the recruiter that you are eager about the transition. Don’t apologize or demean yourself because your qualifications were built in a different industry. Keep the tone optimistic and achievable. Allow your cover letter to represent the direction you see yourself moving.
6. Give gratitude
Ending a cover letter with gratitude is always beneficial. This doesn't need to be overdone, but a small gesture will get you far, such as, “Thank you for your time and consideration”.
Final tips for writing a career change cover letter
It’s recommended to create a template cover letter for yourself which you then go and customize for each position you apply to. Be aware that the danger of this approach is that it’s easy to miss a line or two when you go to make changes, leaving a conglomerate of a cover letter that isn’t personalized to the company you are sending it to. This could be a red flag to a recruiter of someone who isn’t detail-oriented.
The best format for a career change cover letter is to take a skills-based approach. With this, you market yourself as a toolbox, rather than highlighting the core competencies for a given industry.
Lastly, it's okay to use a bulleted format. The idea behind this is that recruiters read countless numbers of cover letters, and we don’t want valuable skills to be missed because the recruiter is skimming through paragraphs. This is especially relevant with career change cover letters, where it already takes a little more effort to get the recruiter to value your skills as transferable.
Career changes are normal and valid.
Explaining your career change in a cover letter takes some finessing.
Focus on honesty in your reasoning and deliverables in your transferable skills.
Every skill can be transferable, it just takes a little creativity.