Whether you're suddenly unemployed or just looking to change up, starting out in a new career is daunting. Take our advice on how to write—and plan—your way into a new field. Photo by Yo Spiff.
Why switch careers?
Blogger, career writer, and Brazen Careerist founder Penelope Trunk knows from jumping ship. From her own ups and downs at work, both office-based and freelance, she's compiled a (relatively) low-stress approach to making the switch. More important: She lists reasons why you should and shouldn't move on:
Here are some bad reasons to switch careers:
1. You hate your boss. (Switch jobs, not careers.)
2. You want more prestige. (Get a therapist - you're having a confidence crisis, not a career crisis.)
3. You want to meet new people. (Try going to a bar, or Club Med. What you really want is to get a life. Pick up a hobby.)
Here are some good reasons to switch careers:
1. You want a role that is more creative, more analytic or more management-oriented.
2. You want to live in a location that does not accommodate your current career.
3. You want more flexibility or fewer hours.
Drafting the resume
Now that you've set your mind to making the big move, let's talk text.
- Getting past the minimum requirements: Use a functional format that lists achievements by general skill area. Most fields want your transferable skills, like project management and client relations.
For example, if you spent a few years working at a toy store, but you want to get into architecture, you might highlight a project management skill and say that you managed a semi-annual special parents night, which included activities geared toward 150 regular customers. You should also focus on results you've achieved rather than job responsibilities—so instead of just saying that you sold infant-related toys and merchandise, you could say that you were named as the top infant toy salesperson, generating revenues of approx. $20K. By doing these things, you show that you have the right combination of talent and skills to get the job done, even if you don't have specific experience in that industry.
- Avoid looking like a job-hopper: Hold each job for at least a year before you consider a change. Individuals who switch more often become known as chronic job jumpers, and employers either consciously or subconsciously avoid these candidates. Especially in this competitive climate, when a hiring manager sees a resume listing four jobs in three years, he won't wait to hear your explanation. He'll think that you can't hold down a job, and he will move on to the next person.
If you do have a history of moving around a lot, I suggest removing the months from your chronology line. For example, saying that you worked at a place from 2007-2008 sounds a lot more palatable than November 2007-March 2008. Also, if you have JUST quit a job or have been laid off, say that you have been at your last position from 2006 to present.
As for the rest of your text, we'll recommend one of the five tactics we've suggested to rebuild your resume: Start with a list of reasons why you're great, then distill it into your resume. All the other stuff—fonts, vertical bars, exact wording of "coffee-grabbing intern"—is just finesse. Start with a blank text editor or sheet of paper, and start throwing down whatever skills you have that the others don't. By doing so, you form the basis for a punchy, concise resume, and (bonus!) you hone your talking points for your interview. Photo by emdot.
Now onto the cover letter, often as important in getitng a hiring manager's attention:
Don't bore your next employer with your layoff story
Cynthia Shapiro, career strategist and author of What Does Somebody Have to Do to Get a Job Around Here?, points out to the Wall Street Journal that taking the time to explain your layoff not only wastes cover letter space, but won't win you many sympathy points these days, as there are a lot of layoff stories to be told.
When applying, avoid expressing bitterness or self-pity. Many layoff victims send cover letters that blame the economy for their job loss, says Ms. Shapiro. There's no need to even point out the fact that you've been laid off. "If your last work day was in October, your résumé will say that," she explains.
Photo by sunshinecity.
In the same article, an IBM hiring manager notes that in a crowded, competitive group of candidates for a consulting job, what helped her pick the winner was a "can-do attitude." More importantly, that applicant didn't make a lot of requests, requirements, or pitch themselves for an exact job doing a precise thing. Get the job first, then work your way into the working environment you dream of.
What to expect (and plan for)
Not to keep hitting on the suck-it-up nail, but crossing into an entirely new realm of experience and work probably requires a bit of sacrifice. To jump-start a stalled job search, you might have to start humble and work your way into career confidence.
Career specialist Levit explains that process in detail for us:
- Ease into a new career one foot at a time: Perhaps this means earning a paycheck at a more attainable job while doing a part-time internship in your new field, or taking an adult education class or workshop on the weekend. The only way to find out if you're passionate about something is to try it - ideally with as little risk as you can manage.
- Remember that any progress is good progress: In the quest to uncover a source of meaningful work, your worst enemy is inertia. Make an effort to do one thing, like e-mailing a networking contact or attending an event, every morning, every day, or before you do something else—that moves you a bit closer to your big-picture goal.
- Have realistic expectations: Even if you're lucky enough to finally get and hold a job in your dream career, there's no such thing as the perfect work situation; dream job doesn't mean "cushy" job. As your mum always told you, anything worth having in this world requires some effort. There will be some days you feel like shutting the alarm off and going back to sleep, especially if you're being made to do grunt work at first, but many more ahead where you feel more energized by the prospect of work than you ever thought possible!
If you 've successfully gone from apples to oranges in your career, or even just from apples to different-coloured, slightly sweeter apples, by all means—tell us how you got there in the comments.