In the last few years, executive resume writer Mary Elizabeth Bradford has noticed more of her clients seeking a career switch, even after having built successful careers in another field.
Nowadays, mid-level career changers — such as software developers who now work in finance or entrepreneurs who come back into corporate life — make up more than 45% of her practice. Many struggle to create an attention-grabbing resume, she says.
“The ability to objectively match up relevant skills to the position of choice is invaluable,” Bradford says.
Eager to switch careers? Here are 10 ways to improve your resume:
1. Do a Comprehensive Rewrite
Most job candidates make a few quick changes to their resume before submitting it for a new role. If you are switching careers, re-analyze your skills during the editing process and include every area of the business that you’ve been able to impact, says Jill Smart, chief human resources officer at Accenture, a management consulting and technology firm with employees in 120 countries.
“People changing careers need to make sure their resume shows the full breadth of their skills — operations, leadership, management, communication,” explains Smart.
For example, Accenture hires former doctors to work in their health and public service practice. Their resumes need to demonstrate not only their relationship-building skills but also how they’ll fit into the new business setting.
2. Use the New Job Description to Write a Summary Paragraph
Experts’ opinions are mixed on the need for a resume summary or objective for those looking to stay in their field, but it’s an important feature for a career changer, says Bonnie Marcus, a New York-based business coach and founder of Women’s Success Coaching, a career coaching firm targeting women.
Include a summary paragraph at the top of your resume and tie “everything in the job description with everything you’ve accomplished in the past,” she says.
For example, if the new position calls for online marketing expertise, make sure any marketing or Web experience is mentioned in this opening paragraph. Since most managers spend less than a minute scanning your resume, make sure the first thing they read ties directly to the job description.
3. Know What to Exclude
While conveying your skills is important, your resume shouldn’t be a dumping ground for every minor accomplishment in your career, says resume expert Alesia Benedict, president of
4. Demonstrate Accomplishments With Numbers
Include bullet points that show how you’ve contributed to the bottom line. Numbers, especially those given in dollars, can quickly give hiring managers an idea of your contributions — even in an unrelated field, says recruiter Craig Libis, founder of Executive Recruiting Consultants based in Dell Rapids, S.D.
While important on all resumes, for a career changer, numbers can be a simple way for hiring managers to relate to an unfamiliar work history. “Specific numbers [allow] the hiring company the ability to apply what the applicant can do for their company in the future,” Libis says.
5. Add Relatable Job Title Descriptions
Adding a short descriptor after the official job title can help hiring managers easily identify your transferable skills.
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“For example, if your job title was ‘software engineer,’ but you want to transition to project management, consider demonstrating the job title as ‘Software Engineer (with a heavy emphasis on Project Management)’,” Feldberg explains. But be careful not to exaggerate the truth. “You only want to use this approach if you can do it honestly,” she adds.
6. Match up Keywords
When it comes to resume writing, keywords help you move past the electronic filters. For a career changer, that’s the first potential barrier in stepping into a new role; a resume full of accounting keywords, for instance, will have a hard time getting past filters for a job in marketing.
Bradford recommends using job aggregator sites like Indeed.com to identify applicable keywords. Find several job postings for your ideal job, paste the job descriptions into a document and find keywords by highlighting any terms that are job descriptors or mention specific needed skills. Then pick out those keywords that match up with your previous experience and include them throughout the first page of your resume, says Bradford.
“Most job seekers are surprised how many matching and relevant skills they find in these job descriptions,” she says.
7. Use a Mixed Format
When working with career switchers, resume writer Robyn Feldberg creates a functional-style resume on the first page and includes the traditional chronological format on the second page. “In other words, the first page looks like a glorified profile,” says Dallas-based Feldberg who runs Abundant Success Coach, a career coaching and resume writing service.
Since the functional format focuses more on skills, you can use it to draw the hiring manager in with relevant experience without worrying about the chronology. Combining both resume formats helps to highlight the various transferable skills while still providing a look at the job history, she adds.
8. Drop Names to Show Previous Success
Showing that you’ve been able to succeed and work with established industry leaders in your previous career shouldn’t be saved for the interview; instead, weave it into your resume to get a hiring manager’s attention, says Theresa Szczurek, chief executive Radish Systems, a Boulder-based software firm. A bullet point may read: “Closed $2 million in new sales in 12 months with industry leaders XYZ,” she explains.
Especially when applying for a position where you don’t have prior experience, it’s important to show that you’ve have the support of top industry leaders and were able to make a difference in your previous role.
9. Highlight Non-Work Related Experience
As a career changer, the extracurricular activities on your resume will carry more weight, say experts. Be sure to include activities that relate to your desired role like professional association memberships, volunteering, internships or part-time consulting.
For example, “if you’re looking to move into Web or database development, volunteer [your] time … creating a website or database for schools, churches, non-profits,” and then highlight your role on your resume, suggests Mike McBrierty, chief operating officer of the technology staffing division of Eliassen Group, an IT recruiting firm based in Wakefield, Mass.
10. Find Natural Alignments
From a human resources perspective, there are certain accomplishments that are similar across different management structures and firms.
“Look for things about your current position that would have meaning to the person considering you for the new position,” says Luke Tanen who left the music industry to work as the director of the Chicago Innovation Awards. For example, Tanen’s mention of closing sponsorship deals was similarly impressive in both fields. “In seeing that the Chicago Innovation Awards were [free] in the job posting, I was quite certain that sponsors play a big role in this program. So I made a point to highlight it as my top bullet point from my past experience securing music sponsorships.”
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More: Work & CareerJob Issues
A CV ought to demonstrate all of your skills. Ideally, you will be able to link your key skills to workplace experience, but if this is not possible then try to cite ways in which you have used them outside of employment situations.
Most key skills fall into one of three categories:
- Transferable skills. These are skills which have been acquired in one setting but can be used in many different sorts of businesses.
- Job-related skills. These skills are specific to a certain line of employment or trade and may require you to have received training to perform.
- Adaptive skills. These sorts of aptitudes are sometimes less obvious and harder to quantify because they rely on personality traits rather than learning.
Let's look at each of these in turn and see how you might address them in your CV.
Everyone has transferable skills even if they don't recognise them as such. Sometimes, your current employer won't make it obvious that the skills you have acquired with them are transferable because they don't necessarily want you to realise how employable you are elsewhere.
Typical transferable skills you may already possess are:
- Reading or writing related skills. This means being able to digest written information and present it in written form as well.
- Computer skills. If you have aptitude with computers and common office programmes then consider this to be a transferable skill.
- Management experience. If you have managed people before then you could transfer this experience to benefit another type of employer.
- Commercial skills. People who can negotiate and handle figures like turnover and gross profit often possess the sort of business acumen which is sought after in many organisations.
- Deadline success. Being able to work to deadlines is something that doesn't happen in all jobs, but if you are used to it then this is a key transferable skill desired in many companies.
- Of course there are other types of transferable skill. Think of them as aptitudes that can function equally well in multiple industrial sectors. Mention them in your CV as you have picked them up throughout your employment history.
Job-related key skills
More specific than transferable skills, job-related ones can get you work with another employer who needs them. Despite this, transferable skills won't necessarily be of use to employers outside of the sector you already work in.
Examples of job-related skills are:
- Brick laying. Although many construction firms need brick laying skills, it is unlikely you will be able to use this skill to find work outside of the building sector.
- Nursing skills. Being a qualified nurse shows you have certain transferable skills like being caring or organised, but nursing itself is a job-related skill which only really works in the healthcare sector.
- Mechanical engineering. Being able to work and repair engines is a job-related skill. It may mean you can transfer into related sectors but probably only within similar roles unless you have other transferable skills to offer.
- Accountancy qualifications. Bookkeeping and accountancy roles are on offer within a wide range of organisations which presents plenty of job choice. However, this job-related skill narrows down that choice to certain types of jobs only.
Although there are nearly as many job-related skills as there are jobs, try not to think of them as restricting what you can do. If you do feel trapped by your job-related skills and have trouble breaking out into new areas of work, then acquire some new ones by enrolling on a training course.
Remember that many job-related skills imply transferable ones so they are always worth mentioning. It is best to add any courses or qualifications that are pertinent to your job-related skills in education section of your CV.
Ideal skills for CV personal statements or even a cover letter, adaptive skills can also be listed in your work experience if you prefer. Think about the sort of personality you have when discussing your adaptive skills. Some of the key ones to look out for include:
- Team working. Not everyone is a team player, but team working is an important adaptive skill that many employers are looking for.
- Loyalty. Been in your job for a long time and seen it through thick and thin? This is an adaptive skill to mention on your CV.
- Positivity. If you are the sort of person who sees the glass as half full and not half empty, then this shows your positivity. Employers tend to favour positive people so mention this as an adaptive skill.
- Creativity. Some jobs cry out for creative people. If you paint, play music or are even good at telling jokes, then this may show off your creative skills.
- Adaptability. Being flexible is something we all need in the workplace from time to time, but some are better at it than others so don't discount your adaptability as a skill.
- Tenacity. Taking ownership of problems and seeing them through is a key skill in many organisations. If you can demonstrate this from your past career, then include it on your CV.
- Although adaptive skills may seem like the least important ones to mention because they are not specific to the job you are applying for, they can often mark you out from another candidate. Don't overlook the importance of your blend of adaptive skills which is as unique as you are.
Be proud of the skills that you have and see each and every one as a way to progress in your career.