Five Best Bets for a Career Change Resume

By Alesia Benedict, CPRW, JCTC

With the economy soured, many industries have simply dried up in terms of growth. For example, construction, automotive, and mortgage services have taken big hits over the past two years. People in these industries have not only seen their own jobs disappear, but most of the other jobs in their industries have evaporated as well. As a result, they often face an unexpected requirement of a career change. But how do you take experience from one industry and translate it into another? Here are some career change resume best bets.

1 – Shift Your Paradigm. Consider Joe. He’s been in construction all his life, moving from laborer all the way up to construction supervisor.  He’s never considered a different career until now. Construction work in his area came to a screeching halt eighteen months ago. Nothing is happening in construction in his area and he’s unable to relocate due to family concerns. He knows he must make a career change but he doesn’t know what that change may be.

If you’ve been in the same career field for twenty years like Joe, your career field has become ingrained in your identity. Joe thinks of himself as a “construction guy”. He must start thinking of himself in a different light and translate that to his career marketing documents – his resume and cover letter. When Joe talks to people in his network, he cannot present himself as a construction professional looking to do something else. He must make that career transition mentally before he will make progress in his job search. That mental shift must also come before he constructs his career change resume. Joe found working with an employment specialist helpful because it gave him the necessary objectivity to see his career in a new light.

2 – Know Where You’re Going.  Joe wasn’t sure what else he could do besides construction. As a result, he sought some career exploration assistance to help him find a new career direction.  He wanted to pursue something that would offer him opportunities, interesting work, and financial reward (like a paycheck!). There were many resources available to Joe, many at no cost, which could direct him. Workforce development centers often offer counseling and job retraining options. Do a little research to see what is available in your area.

Once Joe determined where he wanted to go next in his career, his resume could be built to support that goal. The goal must come first, though. It is impossible to write an effective career change resume if the new goal is a mystery. A great resume is written with a goal in mind; the strategy of information selection and organization must support that goal throughout the entire resume.

Not only should a general goal be developed (such as home inspection for Joe) but details surrounding requirements of the new goal should be researched and understood. Will new training be required? What is the outlook for the new career field? Does it look favorable for the future? What skills are needed for the new job? Knowing all this information at the beginning will help you outline a plan for reaching your goal and give you a beginning strategy for creation of your career change resume. You will understand what skills you need to pull from your background and bring into your new resume.

3 – Know Where You’ve Been. If you’ve been in your job for a long time, it is likely you’ve not prepared a resume in years. You may not have thought about your experience and skills in terms of value to a different industry. When faced with a career change, it is very important to capture the scope of work you’ve done in the past and ways you have contributed, excelled, and succeeded.

A career change resume starts with an in-depth look at your past career history. The more information you or your resume writer has at hand, the better.  Information selection will be important in constructing the career change resume. General information about job roles is not always helpful. For example, Joe noted he had experience working with zoning variances. That was pretty general.  Upon questioning, Joe further explained he had to present project plans multiple times at municipal council meetings, meet with city engineers, and create PowerPoint slide shows to illustrate physical aspects of projects. Those details provided a lot more information about specific skills such as presentation, negotiation, and contract management which could be helpful in the career change resume.

4 – Understand Your Assets.  Skills such as presentation and negotiation were not skills Joe fully realized he possessed until he started examining his background. He had simply thought of his experience as “zoning variance” knowledge. Breaking down his generalities with the help of his writer showed him specific skills he could take to his next career field. You can do the same thing. Think of what you do in general terms and then break that down into specific skills. Some of those skills will be transferrable and some won’t apply. First, you have to understand the skills you have and be fully cognizant of them. Only then can you start to construct a resume that will highlight those transferrable skills that make you qualified for the new career direction.

5 – Establish a Clear Focus.  When a hiring manager reads your new resume, you don’t want him/her to be confused about your goal or qualifications. Many people make the mistake of producing a general resume when making a career change. They assume the hiring manager can connect the dots and understand their goals. That’s not the case.  A career change resume needs to spell it out. It needs to establish the goal and then clearly show skills and experience from the past that support that goal. The resume must show how the needed skills exist, how they’ve been used to excel in the past, and make it clear the job seeker has “what it takes” to do the job.

Career changes can be scary, but in the long run most people say they were good change, offering opportunities to learn new things and meet new people. If you are facing a career change, look at your experience very critically. Get objective viewpoints on your plans. Understand you have value to industries outside your traditional career path. And finally, look at the career change as a new beginning, rather than an ending. A positive attitude will carry through into your resume and you will enjoy better job search success overall.