How to Transition to a New Career

Career Change Is a Big Deal!

It is challenging to find a new job.

For job search success, standing out and being recognized as someone bringing something special to the employer is essential.

The difficulty intensifies when you are a candidate who is new to the specialty, craft, skillset, or occupation — even with years of experience in other areas.

The challenges exist mainly because Human Resources is typically looking for experience on the resume that matches the job requirements (as closely as possible).

Frankly, when they are overloaded with candidates, they are looking for reasons to weed out many resumes to get the “stack” smaller.

How to Succeed in Your Career Change

So how does one successfully cross over into a new area of expertise?

Make Your Goal Clear

When your resume is the first thing they see, you must be clear about your intentions.

If a resume describes you as an Engineer, there is no way they will think of you as a Business Development Associate. Even if that’s the job for which you applied.

I’m not a big fan of Objective/Mission Statements on resumes (a Summary statement is more in tune with a hiring manager’s needs for learning about you). However, in this case, it is helpful.

An Objective Statement can make it very clear you are looking for a career change. It should also be convincing that you can do the job. For example:


To complete a transition from Engineering to Business Development by leveraging experience and knowledge gained while:

  • Working with customers on technical requirements.
  • Helping developing sales materials with Marketing Team.
  • Accompanying Business Development Mangers to client meetings.

Another way to offer clarity is to include a cover letter (or a detailed email message, where applicable) which details the why and how you plan to make this change. It should include much of what is discussed further in this article.

More: How to Write a Personal Mission Statement and How to Write a Resume Objective

Focus Your Resume on Your “Transferable Skills”

For your resumes, identify all the skills you possess that are important or relevant to the new occupational area, also known as transferable skills.

To learn more about transferable skills and find great examples for your resume, read What Are Transferable Skills?

Those skills and knowledge must be at the top of each job listing (and skills section) of the resume. Ensure that these experiences are the first thing the reader sees as they skim from job to job.

There are some skills you have that may not be required in the new occupation, but are transferrable. There may also be experiences you possess that are closely related to those required.

Perhaps you never were charged with managing the P&L or budget for your department, but you may have had a lot to do with providing the data used for the budget or had to know how to apply the assigned budget to your world. Include that experience.

Other related skills may center on ability to learn new technologies quickly, working with top level of management or the company’s Board of Directors, developing processes, or having oversight of a team, project, or initiative.

Keep your resume “in sync” with your LinkedIn Profile, so that the experiences and skills you are emphasizing on your resumes are visible on your LinkedIn Profile, too. Read How Your Social Media Reputation Impacts Hiring Decisions for more information.

The Road Has Shortcuts

Before you consider other companies for your career transition, first consider your current one.

Even if you’re not thrilled with your current company, it is the easiest starting point for this challenge. You are a “known quantity” at your company, and hopefully, you have good reputation equity.

I have been at companies that encourage career progression through different departments. The key to making this happen is to communicate your wishes professionally.

When discussing your desires for change, make it clear that you have enjoyed your career thus far, but you have come to the conclusion that the time has come for a change.

You want to broaden your experience, test your abilities, learn new things, and/or try something that’s always been a dream of yours. You will need to back up what you are saying with concrete stories or thoughts.

You may be surprised at your company’s willingness to work with you. If there are no full-time roles open, you might want to share your inclination to work on some of their key initiatives in addition to your current job.

Keep in mind, when/if the transition does happen, you may have to take a step back in seniority (or even compensation) to make it happen. It’s a trade-off.

[Prepare for interviews with your success stories and Smart Answers to Interview Questions based on Your Interview Checklist – Interview Success in 3 Steps.]

Stepping Back to Step Forward

Along the same lines, you may have to go backwards a bit when trying to fit into a role outside your current employer. This is a time in your career where you have to truly assess how much you want to make this leap.

You may even have to take an entry-level position (where the employer does not expect much “real-world experience” on the resume).

Stepping back may also include going back to school or gaining new skills through seminars, short-courses, or on-line tutorials.

There are many ways to learn new skills these days. But one of the less sought out resources is a mentor.

A mentor can be someone you know personally in the field who can provide you more than just help on the skills, but also give you ideas on professional connections, ways to break into the field, or even insights on the likelihood of this working out.

Informational interviews can also be very helpful in finding mentors as well as collecting information and insight. Done right, you’ll learn more about the job, potential employers, and the career paths that people have taken successfully.

Also keep in mind, these teachers or mentors can serve as good references for you to leverage when applying for jobs. They give credibility to your statements that you have mastered the skills necessary. [Read The Hidden Value of Informational Interviews for more information.]

Before You Apply, Try

As much as you can, be sure all this effort to make a change is going to be truly what you want long term.

In addition to a mentor and informational interviews, I highly recommend shadowing someone in the role and meeting face-to-face with people in the role to discuss the pros and cons of their job.

Oftentimes, people will be very frank with you about the pitfalls or less-glamorous aspects of their job. If you feel those obstacles are surmountable, keep moving forward.

Even better than hearing about it is actually doing it. Even for free. Options include:

  • Volunteer to help in that work environment.
  • Internship/Externship.
  • Do contract work.

Do whatever you can to get hands-on experience. It’s a win-win for everyone (even if there’s little pay involved):

  • They get cheap help.
  • You get validation that you can do the job — and like it.
  • You get another reference, and job experience to put on your resume.

Networking Times Two

Networking becomes twice as critical in the job search when looking to make a career change.

You need to ask around to find out which recruiters specialize in your area of interest (their company’s job board offers clues on what roles they fill most often).

All your friends and relatives should know you’re looking to make a change. Only after your contacts are aware will they think about their network and who might be able to help you. Your network includes everyone you know professionally and socially. Leave no one out.

Bottom Line

It’s a big deal to make a decision like this:

  • Be prepared to do extra work and then some more.
  • Be humble, but confident in your abilities.
  • Be strong in the face of certain defeats.
  • Be certain this is what you want.

Now, go make it happen.

More on Successful Career Change:

Jeff LipschultzAbout the author…

Job-Hunt’s Working with Recruiters Expert Jeff Lipschultz is a 20+ year veteran in management, hiring, and recruiting of all types of business and technical professionals. He has worked in industries ranging from telecom to transportation to dotcom. Jeff is a founding partner of A-List Solutions, a Dallas-based recruiting and employment consulting company. Learn more about him through his company site Follow Jeff on LinkedIn and on Twitter (@JLipschultz).
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