Career Strategies 101: Switching Careers - Prepare Your Skills to Make the Leap

February 13, 2017

This February, JEVS Career Strategies takes a look at being in love...or not...with your job. When you think the romance is gone, what should you do? What kind of research is needed before making a decision about your next career? Finally, just how transferrable are your skills - and what can you do to strengthen your case for a career change? Maxine Katz, former JEVS Career Advisor, returns to help, should you be rethinking your relationship...with your job.

So you’ve decided to take the plunge. Done your research. And decided that your true career passion lies somewhere else. Terrific!

Now how do you get from here to there?  As a general rule, if you are currently employed, even if you aren’t ecstatically happy, don’t leave your job until you have another offer!  After all, if you are changing career fields it very well may take more time than you think.

To present your work history and skill sets to a new potential employer, you’ll need a résumé. There are two very common résumé formats: chronological and functional. Both have their advantages and disadvantages; chronological emphasizes career growth within a specific industry/or career field over a period of time, functional can be used to emphasize the skills you’ve accumulated that might be closer to the position you are seeking.

In the case of a wholesale change in career field, I generally recommend a functional résumé. You’ll have additional flexibility in presenting your talents, while demonstrating your willingness (and capability) to stretch and grow in your workplace experiences.

You’ll still list your previous employers, but lower on the page to support your experience and skill offerings.
Another key printed change takes place on your cover letter. A good cover letter will (emphasis added on key points):

  1. Clearly state your interest and specifically reference the position by name
  2. Explain the career change; what you were doing before and why the new position speaks to you
  3. Convey your key strengths that match the job
  4. Wrap up with a few key takeaways and ways for the employer to contact you
  5. Thank the employer for their time and consideration

We hear a great deal about transferable skills, and it’s true that there are some wonderful soft skills that can be positive marks anywhere: drive, communication, punctuality, decision-making. If in your research, you determine that you need specific hard skills – think school or “book” learning – to make the career leap to your desired career, evaluate your plan to obtain these skills or seek the advice of a trusted friend or career counselor who can assist you in formulating a plan.

Finally, there are spoken changes. Everyone has heard of the 30-second elevator speech.

Could you explain to a friend, business acquaintance or possible employer why you are looking to switch career fields?

Work on a short version that builds off your life’s goal or theme: if you’ve always wanted to help children, talk about how you’d like to put your previous experiences to work in that arena now.

Switching career fields should never be about “Well, I hate this so now I’ll do that.” Just like dating, we never want to leave a bad relationship and plunge into an equally bad rebound! Knowing what you’re passionate about – and about the career that can fit your lifestyle, wants, and most importantly, your needs – will help develop your clear purpose: on paper, when speaking, and in front of the door to that dream career.

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