How to Write a Resume When You Change Your Career: 8 Strategies

Your resume is the first thing hiring managers see. When changing careers, make sure to highlight your transferrable skills and use keywords to your advantage. Knowing how to write a resume for a career change will set you apart from the crowd and help you land your dream job.


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How to Write a Resume When You Change Your Career: 8 Strategies

Have you ever wanted a fresh start? A chance to re-write your story? Well, writing your resume is the time to do just that. This is your opportunity to tell employers why you are the best person for the job. As challenging and daunting as it can be, it's well worth the time and effort.

If you’re updating your resume while trying to figure out how to change careers, you may feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle. Career changers especially need to highlight why their skills and experience make them the best candidate for the job. Without discounting the jobs you’ve held in the past, you need to tell your story in a way that speaks to hiring managers in your new desired field. Luckily, there are many ways to tailor your resume to show off experience that is applicable to your new career and increase your chances of getting an interview. Here are seven strategies for how to write a resume if you’re changing careers.

  1. Pick the Right Resume Style

    There are three commonly used resume styles: chronological, functional, and a combination of the two. Chronological resumes list all of your previous job titles with bullet points of your previous job duties. These tend to be the least optimal for career changers and work better if you're looking for a new job in your current or a similar field.

    Functional resumes are a bit controversial but could be a good for career changers. They begin with a career goal or objective and then list out transferable skills and relevant training courses or education before briefly summarizing your previous jobs. Because functional resumes de-emphasize the jobs you've had and focus on your skills and abilities, they are a solid choice if you're changing your career to a significantly different field. This is also why some recruiters don't like them – it can be hard to see career progression and work history.

    An even better option may be the combination-style resume, which begins with a summary of your qualifications and then lists skills. By showing your transferrable skills as well as your work history, potential employers can see that you're a dependable employee while you tell them the story of how your experience relates to the job they have open.

  1. Find a Template

    A quick internet search for “functional,” and “combination” resume templates can provide you with some great models of what these resume types look like. Depending on which resume style you decide is best for you, you can download the appropriate template and plug in your career information. Templates can be valuable tools that save you time and help you make your resume more presentable.

    Your resume is your first impression, so you want it to look good as well as tell your story. There are some great templates and tools out there that can help you build a unique but still professional-looking resume. For example, you can use Canva to create a visually appealing branded resume or buy a template from Etsy or Fiver. If you're looking to get a job that values things like creativity, branding or the ability to create and manipulate documents, you can show off these skills in the resume format. Just don't go crazy with colors and graphics! And if you’re interested in web design or development, build an online resume and portfolio to show off your skills.

  2. Summarize Yourself as a Go-Getter

    You might want to describe yourself with adjectives like “well-rounded” or “versatile.” And it doesn't hurt to mention that you're changing careers, especially if you have some pretty stellar transferable skills and training/certifications that give you a boost as a viable candidate. Here's an example of a summary you might use at the top of your resume if you're switching to a job in IT security:

    A versatile problem-solver with a known track record of exceeding employer expectations. Familiar with solving complex technical problems and CompTIA A+ certified.
  3. Highlight Your Transferable Job Skills

    Remember that as a career changer, your main objective is to convince a hiring manager that you'd be a good fit for a position, even if you don't have much actual full-time job experience in a particular field. By highlighting your transferable and relevant skills at the beginning of your resume, you'll focus hiring managers' attention away from the fact that you're a newbie in the field and toward the fact that you do have skills that will prove useful in the position.

    For instance, here's how you might present some of your transferable skills if you're applying for an IT support role when you've worked in marketing for the past several years:

    Professional Skills

    • Communication – Successfully managed and communicated key objectives to two teams of offsite workers while maintaining a 95% employee retention rate
    • Problem Solving – Identified technical issues with email marketing campaigns and suggested solutions that increased email open rates by 20%
    • Resourcefulness – Cut direct mail marketing costs by 40% after locating and switching to a new, in-state vendor

    These, of course, are all hypothetical examples, but they illustrate a way you can approach presenting your key transferable skills. Notice that each skill is backed up by a specific example of how the applicant has demonstrated it in a previous position. In general, the more specific you get about your skills, the more convincing and reliable you'll appear to hiring managers. Take cues from the job posting to know what skills to highlight. For example, there's no need to list proficiency in Microsoft products – hiring managers expect this from any seasoned professional.

  4. Keep It Short and Sweet

    The one-page resume is still the gold standard for career seekers. It saves recruiters and hiring managers time, and you don't want to risk overloading them with extraneous information in an off-putting way. You also probably don't want to go back too far in your career. Keep it relevant and relatively recent. Usually, listing job positions you've had for the past 6 to 10 years suffices, using your best judgment. Oh, and you can leave off that high school job you had flipping burgers.

  5. Highlight Your Nontraditional Experience

    Whether it be volunteer experience, internship experience, training, certification programs or something else, make sure to include anything relevant. If you're using either a functional resume or a combination resume, you may want to plug in your nontraditional experience below your transferable skills. You might need to briefly explain this experience in a way that emphasizes key skills. This section shouldn't be so long that it takes over your resume, but it's a good way to show hiring managers what you have to offer.

  6. Include Your References

    Some job seekers leave their references off, which makes the hiring managers' job more difficult if they want to contact them. Including them proves from the get-go that you have professional contacts who can vouch for your competency as an employee. This probably goes without saying, but make sure, too, that your references are all either former colleagues or supervisors.  While your great aunt might have some nice things to say about you, she may not be the most credible reference.  If you choose someone you currently work with, make sure they're aware of your plans and that they will be discreet if need be. Don't forget to ask your references if you can use them.

  7. Add Keywords

    Do some research to find out what keywords you should be including in your resume. The right words stick out to auto-scanning resume programs and people scanning the documents. These words could go in your objective statement, past job descriptions or wherever they are relevant. If you need ideas for keywords to use, job search sites like Indeed often list a few important ones.

As a career changer, the key to crafting a resume that positions you as the best candidate is to highlight the marketable skills you've proven you have. If the hiring manager can clearly see that you have the skills they're looking for, it may matter less that you don't have experience in that particular field. Often times, those soft skills that translate across industries are more attractive than technical skills because the technical skills can be more easily taught. Getting your foot in the door is all a matter of catching the hiring manager's attention and proving you have a track record of success in the positions you've held. And don't forget to use all of the tools at your disposal as you're writing your resume, like job postings, job descriptions and templates. Just make sure you add your own personal flair to them (in a professional way, of course). Additionally, do everything you can to stand out with specific examples of your past successes.

If you're trying to figure out how to write a resume for your dream job, these strategies should help you get the attention of more hiring managers. Still trying to figure out if you want to make the switch to a totally different career or wondering, “what career is right for me?” Take our free career quiz to see if you're ready for a career change.