Artwork by: Sasha Serdyukova
A career change can be both scary and exciting. The first step to a new career path is a great resume. With a couple of tried and true tips, you can build a great resume that will open the door to a new professional direction.
Perhaps you’ve been mulling over a career change for a while, but haven’t been quite sure it’s realistic. Well, though it may have been challenging in the past, it’s more realistic today than ever before. As the employment landscape takes on a new shape, choosing to take a brand new direction with your career will become increasingly normalized.
The idea of venturing on a new career path, however, is obviously still daunting. Even as you begin to rework your resume, you might ask yourself, “How in the world can I present my experience so that a potential employer in a completely different field will take me seriously?”
But take heart. We’re here to help. It is absolutely possible to craft a career change resume that both outlines your old accomplishments and presents you as a viable candidate, ready to tackle a new role.
In this blog, we’ll look at the steps necessary to craft a successful career change resume, including
Selecting the best resume format for a career change resume
Crafting the objective and skills sections for a career change resume
Designing the employment history section
Highlighting education & training for a career change
A new Pew Research Center survey finds that about one-in-five workers (22%) say they are very or somewhat likely to look for a new job in the next six months. 60% of workers who changed employers in 2022 found significant wage increases.
Choosing the right resume format is one of the most important steps to building your career change format. When it comes to resumes, there are three main formats acceptable in the market: the “chronological format” (aka reverse-chronological), which details your professional history by date; the “functional format”, which first highlights your transferable skills and achievements and then follows with your professional history; and the “combination” or “hybrid format”, which is a combination of the two.
There are obvious advantages and disadvantages to all three. The “chronological format”, for example, scores the best in Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). They are also, generally speaking, preferred by recruiters.
For that reason, if the career pivot isn’t too far away from your current field, it’s best to stick with the “chronological format.” Take this example: if you’re shifting from big-store paper sales to a fashion retail store, the sales-based skill sets are similar. So, the work experience is worth highlighting.
A functional format, on the other hand, allows you to let your skills and accomplishments shine forth. This is especially helpful if the linear progress of your work history doesn’t obviously demonstrate your ability to handle the desired position.
It is true, that recruiters are not always keen to see functional resumes. But if your desired career shift is a significant deviation from your current path, then the main priority in designing your resume becomes highlighting transferable skills. In this case, the functional format might be the way to go. For example, if you’re transitioning from big-store paper sales to running a cleaning company, then presenting your leadership, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills is best in a functional format.
All resumes contain common sections, regardless of format. But because you are changing careers, these sections and the arrangement of your resume will be slightly different.
Even if using a traditional chronological format, you’ll want a layout that places your skills in immediate visibility - like in a margin. Your sections should be listed in the following order:
Objective statement or career summary
Skills (Either below the summary or in a side block)
Employment history or experience
This organization allows you to showcase the attributes that your new career will require.
However, if using a functional format, the skills section is enhanced and the education section is moved up. The basic structure for a functional resume is:
Name and contact information
Title (the job title you are applying for)
Objective Statement (of any experience relevant to those listed in the job posting)
Hard Skills (these are skills directly related to the job)
Soft Skills (that complement the job)
Achievements (specific achievements that relate to the job)
Education (formal, vocational and subsequent training)
Experience (Brief listing of work history. Just employers, dates, and title)
Industry related certifications
There’s an old saying: “Who you are is more than just what you’ve done.” This is the theme of an objective statement on a career change resume.
Generally speaking, a resume summary quickly identifies the general title of the desired position as well as overarching skills that are specific to that position. Ideally, this is a combination of hard and soft skills that show you’re a fit for the job. With a career change resume, though, the summary should also, in some way, acknowledge the change. In other words, go ahead and highlight the pivot. For example, it might begin…
Experienced Paper Sales Professional with a passion for expanding markets seeking to launch a career as a manager of a thriving cleaning company.
State prior professional history and then move into the career pivot. This signals that, while you may not have the typical background, there is a passion for the new career path.
Next, highlight additional qualifications specifically geared to the position. The following lines might read:
Successfully managed 30-person teams and gained real-world experience with the SafeClean training program.
Next, comes your chance to accentuate all of the soft skills that easily translate between industries:
Highly proficient at: time management, organization, communication, and collaboration.
Wrap up with a strong line that underscores the passion for the new career direction.
A driven manager with the capacity to inspire team members, identify new markets and lead successful expansion efforts.
When writing the objective for a career change resume, lean into the affection and devotion for the new field or position. You want to express that even if someone else will have more experience, you’ll bring a dedication to excellence.
Let’s put it all together.
Experienced Paper Sales Professional with a passion for expanding markets seeking to launch a career as a manager of a thriving cleaning company. Successfully managed 30-person teams and gained real-world experience with the SafeClean training program. Highly proficient at: time management, organization, communication, and collaboration. A driven manager with the capacity to inspire team members, identify new markets and lead successful expansion efforts.
When it comes to crafting the skills section on a career change resume, the name of the game is “transferable skills”. Since you’re looking to move into a different field, it’s crucial to highlight skill sets that will also be advantageous in the new field.
Transferable skills are qualities, abilities, and experiences that we develop throughout our life that contribute to our success, and they don’t always come exclusively from work.
The most obvious transferable skills are soft skills that you’ve developed in both your work and personal lives. Soft skills such as interpersonal skills (relationship building, customer service, collaboration, etc.), management skills (team leading, recruiting, project planning), and critical-thinking skills (research, analysis, problem-solving) are all fantastic transferable skills.
Though not as obvious, there are also hard skills that are transferable. Transferable hard skills include computer and technical skills (using job-related software, using job-related equipment and machinery), clerical skills (managing records, performing data entry, bookkeeping), and presentation skills (if trained in particular techniques or equipment).
Make a list of hard skills you utilize in your current job and a list required by your desired new position. You might be surprised by the overlap.
Remember to scan the job description for keywords or particular skills that the employer is seeking in applicants. You’ll want to include any that apply to you on your resume. If the recruiter is using an ATS, it will be scanning your resume for those keywords.
If there are particular skills applicable to the role which you are currently developing, but don’t yet have, there is a way to include these skills in your resume. Simply list them under “Areas of Interest.” Let’s say you’re looking to launch a career as a Chef. Those “Areas of Interest” might include: “Restaurant Management, Food Preparation, Catering, Food Safety, Hospitality, Food & Beverage Operations, Event Management, and Customer Service”
You might expect this section to be the tricky part. Since you’re career path up to now, wouldn’t presumably present you as qualified for the new role, you might be hesitant to list past jobs you deem “irrelevant”. But this impulse would be wrong. This section is just as straightforward as other resumes: just list your past employment history.
Now, that being said, there is a difference between the employment sections in a chronological resume and a functional resume.
Again, if the career change is not a huge deviation from your current career, then the chronological resume is your best bet. In that case, list your work history as with any resume, listing each position by company name, job title, and date.
However, the achievements listed under each position should be geared towards highlighting or including accomplishments that will make you stand out to a potential employer in the new career path. For the sales professional turning chef, for example,
XYZ Software Integration, SaaS Sales Professional, 2018 - 2022
- Engaged with clients, determined software needs, and presented product solutions to propel business. Engaged with senior management, outlined sales objectives, and crafted strategies to achieve predetermined goals.
- Surpassed sales goal by 24% in 2021.
- Launched a new territory and accomplished considerable market penetration.
- Developed a sustainable pipeline of business of repeat and referral clientele.
- Selected to plan catering menus for corporate retreats.
- Entrusted to budget food and beverage costs for entertaining clients at trade shows.
Include achievements where a natural connection to the new field may be made.
Invent or inflate accomplishments for the new field if they do not exist. Overall the draft must maintain integrity.
If the career change is a bigger pivot, the functional format resume can be more impactful. In this case, the skills section is larger and placed above the experience section, because the emphasis is more on what you can do rather than what you have done. Qualities are listed in sections with accomplishments listed per category.
Food & Beverage
- Selected to plan catering menus for corporate retreats (XYZ).
- Entrusted to budget food and beverage costs for entertaining clients at trade shows (XYZ).
- Surpassed sales goal by 24% in 2021 (XYZ).
- Launched a new territory and accomplished considerable market penetration (XYZ).
- Developed a sustainable pipeline of business of repeat and referral clientele (XYZ).
XYZ Software Integration, SaaS Sales Professional., 2018 - 2022
123 Software Solutions, SaaS Business Development, 2016 - 2018
The education section can also be an excellent place to demonstrate suitability for a career change. Anything that corresponds to the desired career path can be included here: training, certifications, minors, and extracurricular training.
Collegiate education from the highest degree earned to the lowest (Doctorate, Graduate, Undergraduate) should obviously still come first, even if it does not immediately pertain to the new path. For example, simply because you have a bachelor’s in business administration and are looking to become a ski instructor, it should still top the education list.
Follow that with any certifications and licenses that do pertain. This is your chance to show that you’re serious about this career change and have been taking steps to prepare yourself for the move.
The theme here is not to hide the past - be straightforward, indeed proud, of your education - but also look ready for the future.
Optimize the draft with keywords for the new career trajectory.
Determine if a chronological or functional format is the best fit.
Locate achievements that can be attributed to the new career change.