By Christine Andrelczyk, NLU Career Services Advisor
So you’ve decided to take the plunge and make a career change! Perhaps you’ve gone back to school to get a degree. Or maybe your life circumstances have changed—your kids are a bit older, you’ve moved to a new city, or you’re ready to start a new chapter.
Career changing is not uncommon; the average professional can expect to change careers three times during their work years. Yet it can still be a challenging and frustrating process.
Don’t let your accomplishments get buried
While career changers can offer a wealth of experience and skills to their new employer, when it comes to re-writing the resume, it’s easy for those gems to get buried under heaps of old or irrelevant information. Chronically busy, overworked recruiters often don’t have the time to sit down and ruminate over how your past as a competitive hedge sculptor actually makes you the perfect new addition to their Silicon Valley startup. Instead, it’s your job as the applicant to work some transformative magic on your past and connect the dots for them. By keeping some key points in mind, you can put your mind at ease and ensure a smooth and rewarding transition.
Reframe your past experience
The biggest mistake that career changers often make is assuming their old resume will land them a job in a brand new field. If you’re seeking a new job or a promotion in the same field, then that would be the case. However, a resume that screams “banking” or “health care” is not going sound appealing to a school looking to hire an elementary school teacher.
The key is generalizing your experiences and emphasizing your transferable skills. If you’re unsure of what skills your new field is hiring for, simply pop open a job description and scan the qualifications—what keywords do you find? If they’re looking for a strong communicator with experience problem-solving in a team environment, that’s your cue to show them you can do exactly that!
What if you haven’t worked in years?
If you have a gap on your resume, don’t fret. Lots of people take time away from work to raise kids or handle personal matters, and employers understand that. While the situation itself is fine, if your professional timeline is sparse, employers feel like they’re missing out on a huge piece of your life. Feel free to get creative when filling this space in! Some examples of things you can include are volunteer activities, school involvement (PTO, bake sale?) or even side projects you’ve done, like babysitting a neighbor’s kids or renovating a friend’s kitchen. The goal is to have as little dead space as possible.
Gain new experiences
While in certain cases you can get away with simply re-framing your old experiences, in other cases you may need to set out to collect some new skills. A part-time job or even a volunteer opportunity in your new field can update your skills and boost your relevancy in the eyes of future employers. For example, someone looking to get into teaching could volunteer as an after-school tutor or take a part-time gig as a teacher’s aide. If you want to transition into computer programming or web design, reach out to local non-profits to see if they need help designing or running their website.
You can also expand your knowledge and credibility by taking classes. Sites like Lynda.com and EdX offer courses and certifications which you can use to demonstrate your newfound expertise and commitment to the new field. While many of these skills are field-specific, picking up a foreign language or learning a new technology skill will appeal to all industries.
Tap into your network
None of us can get by without a little help from our friends, and a robust professional network is often a career changer’s strongest ally. Do a little digging into your network, because chances are you know someone in your desired field. If not, get active on LinkedIn and request introductions. LinkedIn’s group pages are a great way to break the ice and get involved in your new industry’s scene. Many LinkedIn groups also have in-person meet-ups throughout the year; this helps you transform your online connections into face-to-face professional relationships. Be sure to also check out your university’s alumni page for more leads!
Changing careers is never easy, but it’s not an insurmountable challenge either. The more prepared you are to confidently market yourself to future employers by linking your old experiences with the new, the quicker and more fruitful your job search will be. Whether it’s gaining new skills or simply putting a new spin on something you’ve been doing for years, these strategies will springboard you into your career jump.
For more tips on careers and employment, visit NLU’s Career Services pages.