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

By Emma Esparza

Updated 27 October 2022 | Published 28 November 2020

Updated 27 October 2022

Published 28 November 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 jobseekers in their intersectional uniqueness towards a successful job search and fulfilling career.

In a 2020 Indeed survey¹ of over 10,000 jobseekers, one third of all respondents – half of whom were unemployed – reported that they are looking to switch fields. Unemployed jobseekers looking to switch fields cited COVID-19 as a motivation more than the general population of career transitioners. In comparison to a similar survey conducted in late 2019, it appears that a new pattern of career switching has emerged—one that results out of necessity rather than desire—for those who must switch fields due to a lack of available opportunities in their chosen field.

Transitioning careers can be challenging under normal circumstances. Doing so while COVID-19 continues to impact the economy is sure to present additional obstacles. With unemployment numbers up and job numbers down, an increase in applications for fewer open roles is likely. As a result, it’s also likely that competition has grown across all industries.

Still, changing careers can be a healthy and smart 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 a different role in a new industry, there are several actions you can take to increase your chances of getting the right job for you.

In this article, we sit 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 offers tips to avoid common mistakes and stand out from other candidates during your application process when transitioning careers.

Related: The Complete Guide to Changing Careers During COVID-19

Question: Since the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in the US, have you received more applications from candidates who are transitioning careers?
Answer: Absolutely. I’ve noticed a slight uptick in applications within the last few months, and a good portion of those candidates are transitioning to new careers or transitioning back 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 transition careers take to stand out from other applicants?
A: I think follow-up messages are always appreciated and can often be impactful. Whether it be thanking an interviewer for taking the time to speak with you, or thanking the employer for considering you for a role even if you weren’t hired, this 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 and they don’t get an offer but they send 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.

Related: How to Write a Follow-Up Email After Submitting Your Application

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

Use the job description – the role 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 and instead, use language that mirrors the job description and your future career path.

Read more: 5 Steps for Updating Your CV in a Career Change

Q: It’s true that there’s no singular trick to submitting an application that’ll get you an interview, but is there a memorable applicant or application that stands out to you? If so, what did the candidate do well?
A: This is tough because not only is there no singular trick, but also different things stand out to different recruiters. For me, some of the applications that stand out in recent memory are ones that have included some subtle, work-appropriate humour, although I know that’s not always easy to include on an application. Showing some of your personality – it doesn’t have to be humour – can be a good way to stand out though!

Other more standard ways to create a memorable CV are having clean, simple CV 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 recommend any tips or considerations to help those who are transitioning 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 lists required years of experience but is purposefully vague in the area of experience or uses language 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'.

Q: Often, those who are transitioning mid-career face the problem of not having enough experience that directly matches the job description but having too much work/life experience to qualify for junior roles (even if they adapt their CV accordingly). Do you have any suggestions to help these candidates in the job application process?
A: Assuming you adapt your CV appropriately and get an interview, then I would say use the phone screen and interview to highlight what skills and expertise you gained in previous roles that would be an asset in this new role even if not directly related. This can be 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.

Related: Interview Question: 'What Skills Would You Bring to the Job?'

Q: Was there ever a time when you had to convince a hiring manager to consider a candidate who was transitioning careers? If so, what did the candidate do in their application to help you advocate for them?
A: When I review an application, one thing I look for is 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 a career transitioner, I think customising your CV to focus on your related roles, achievements and education can help tell that story. And, in turn, it can help me 'sell' your experience to a hiring manager.

Another key element that I always look for is a headline statement or brief professional summary where that summarises your experience or specifically mentions the career change you are actively trying to make. This can help explain why you applied for the role if it’s unclear by simply looking at your previous work history.

Read more: How to Write a Targeted CV: Tips and Example

Q: Any additional tips you’d suggest to help career transitioners find more success through their job applications?
A: If this is a new industry for you, it can help to build your network in the field and look for groups and associations related to it that you can join. These kinds of organisations may even point you in the direction of job openings you may have overlooked.

Related: What is frictional unemployment? (Causes and effects)

¹ Indeed survey, n=10,604

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