Tips From a Recruiter: How To Stand Out When Changing Careers

By Emma Esparza

Updated November 20, 2022

Published September 16, 2020

Emma Esparza is a career coach at Indeed with experience as a recruiter, university career adviser, and senior technical career coach. She is passionate about guiding all job seekers in their intersectional uniqueness towards a successful job search and fulfilling career.

In a 2020 Indeed survey¹ of over 10,000 job seekers, one-third of all respondents—half of them unemployed—reported they were looking to switch career fields. Unemployed job seekers looking to switch fields cited COVID-19 as their motivation more than the general population of those who wanted to change careers did.

Changing careers can be challenging under normal circumstances. Doing so while COVID-19 continues to impact the economy may present additional obstacles. With unemployment numbers up and job numbers down, there are likely to be more applications for fewer roles and increased competition across all industries.

Changing careers can still be a good decision whether you’re making an early-, mid-, or late-career transition—especially if COVID-19 has limited opportunities in your current role or industry. While it may take longer to find another role in a new industry, you can take several steps to increase your chances of getting the right job for you.

We sat down with Brendan Sullivan—recruiter at Indeed for marketing, finance, real estate and communications roles—to discuss tips for applying to jobs during a career transition. Sullivan also offered tips to avoid common mistakes and stand out from other candidates during the application process.

Question: Since the initial outbreak of COVID-19, have you received more applications from candidates who are changing careers?
Answer: Absolutely. I’ve noticed a slight uptick in applications within the last few months, and a good portion of those candidates are moving to new careers or returning to previous career paths.

Q: Competition for roles is high with unemployment up and the number of available jobs down. What extra care can someone looking to make a career change take to stand out from other applicants?
A: I think follow-up messages are always appreciated and can often be impactful. Thanking an interviewer for taking the time to speak with you or thanking the employer for considering you for a role even if you aren’t hired can leave a good long-term impression and is a useful practice to develop as you build your network. If I have a positive interaction with a candidate who doesn't get an offer but sends a thoughtful follow-up message, it helps me remember them so I can reach out for future opportunities they might be a better fit for.

Q: What are the most common job application mistakes that someone changing careers should be aware of?
A: Avoid using the same resume you would have used in your previous career path, as it doesn’t highlight your new objectives and may appear as though you misunderstood the job description. While your previous positions may have encompassed many duties and accomplishments you’re proud of, try to list only those that are relevant or at least somewhat related to the new role.

Use the job description—the responsibilities, requirements, and preferred qualifications—to help you decide which previous duties and accomplishments you should write about for this particular application. Avoid using jargon from your previous industry or role. Instead, use language that mirrors the job description and your future career path.

Related:

  • Exploring Second Career Options (With Salary Information)

  • Steps to Change Your Career Path at Any Age (With Benefits)

  • How to Make a Career Change at 50 (With Reasons and Tips)

Q: While there’s no singular trick to submitting an application that’ll guarantee you an interview, in cases where there a candidate stood out to you, what did they do well?
A: Different things stand out to different recruiters. For me, some of the applications that stood out in recent memory are ones that included some subtle, work-appropriate humour, although I know that’s not always easy to work into an application. Showing some personality—it doesn’t have to be through humour—can be a good way to stand out, though.

Other ways to create a memorable resume are to use clean, simple resume formatting, relevant content that’s easy to read, and a strong professional summary statement that’s concise—about three sentences—but clearly shows how your qualifications match the position.

Q: Can you give any tips to help those who are changing careers search for the right role?
A: I’d recommend aiming for job openings that list flexible ranges for required years of experience, as those employers may be more open to candidates who are not coming from a directly related role. For example, “1-5 years” or “3-8 years” rather than “5+ years of experience.”

Another way employers hint at this could be when their job post has listed the required years of experience but is purposefully vague in the area of experience or uses terms like “or a related field/role.” For instance, the description requirements might read “3+ years of experience in sales, customer service, or a related field/role.”

Related:

  • A Guide to Making a Career Change Midlife (Plus Example J

  • How to Change Careers at 30 in 7 Steps

Q: Often, those who are making mid-career changes face the problem of not having enough experience that directly matches the job description but too much work/life experience to qualify for more junior roles (even if they adapt their resume accordingly). Do you have any suggestions to help these candidates in the job application process?
A: Assuming you adapt your resume appropriately and get an interview, I would say use the phone screening and interview to highlight the skills and expertise you gained in previous roles that would be an asset in this new role, even if they're not directly related. This could include HR management, communication, and other skills that, while they may relate to many industries, are critical to have in the role you’re interviewing for.

Q: Have you ever had to convince a hiring manager to consider a candidate who was switching to a new career? If so, what did the candidate do in their application to help you advocate for them?
A: When I review an application, I look for the reason that led the candidate to apply for this role. Sometimes this can be seen by a clear trajectory formed by their previous positions, but for someone who is changing careers, customizing your resume to focus on your related roles, achievements, and education can help tell that story. In turn, it can help me “sell” your experience to a hiring manager.

Another element I always look for is a headline statement or brief professional summary that summarizes your experience or specifically mentions the career change you're trying to make. This can help clarify why you applied for the role if it the reason is unclear by simply looking at your work history.

Related: How Can an External Recruiter Help You Find a Job You Want?

Q: Do you have any additional tips to help people changing careers find more success through their job applications?
A: If you're interested in an industry that's new for you, it can help to build your network in the field and look for related groups and associations to join. These kinds of organizations may even point you toward job openings you may have overlooked.

¹ Indeed survey, n=10,604

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