When changing careers, people tend to start with two things: searching through job postings, and updating their résumé. While those are two components of the process, I see each of those as supporting tools, rather than starting points or essential steps.
Once you’ve done the work to inventory your values, what you bring, and what you’re looking for, it’s easier and faster to look through existing job postings and know whether there’s a fit, or whether they’re worth exploring before you apply through an informational interview.
Similarly, your application materials – a résumé and cover letter – are best used to effectively communicate what you’ve already figured out about yourself, and to market yourself for a specific kind of opportunity.
Ideally, résumés should not be used as leading documents – especially if you’re making a big career change.
Why is that? Because your résumé, as it currently outlines your previous career path, will not make sense to the person reading it in your new career path. And as I’ve mentioned, recruiters have a lot of applications to sort through, so anything that’s unfamiliar will get tossed.
You have to make it easy for them to understand:
- What you bring to the table, and how it translates to this job (the résumé)
- Why you want this particular job (the cover letter)
Marketing materials are designed to sell you something. Your job application is the supporting player (after networking) in selling you as the right fit for their open job. After reading thousands of résumés over my career, I know what actually works to grab people’s attention – and keep it.
- Keep it short – 1-2 pages at most! In a simple font – not fancy, and not tiny.
- It can be organized chronologically (most recent job first), or functionally (by summarizing the common threads of your career in categories, such as “sales” and “management”). If you go the functional route, you just need to include a short list of your work history (with dates) at the end.
- Focus on communicating the top 3-4 accomplishments from each position, rather than bullet points from your job description, which are rarely effective at conveying what you actually did. Use data, results, numbers wherever possible to help translate what you did (e.g., Increased sales results from $1M to $2.5M over two years).
- Take out any jargon specific to your previous industry – acronyms are useless unless you’re staying put! Have someone outside that industry read your résumé to point out all the questions they have about what things mean.
- Use a summary at the top: especially for career changers, it’s critical to explain on your résumé exactly why you’re looking to switch careers, what skills and experience you have to offer, and how they apply to this general job category.
- You should not, however, state in your summary or objective that you want this specific job. That’s a) too easy to forget to change before sending your résumé elsewhere, and b) not really true as you’re looking for the right fit, not one exact title.
- It doesn’t need to have a creative design component to it – unless you’re a graphic designer or artist, in which case that should be your primary focus! For everyone else, keep it simple.
- Add the same résumé on LinkedIn – it’s important to have an online home for your résumé, so you can quickly share a link in your networking. And frankly, when people don’t have a basic online presence, I wonder about their technology skills.
You’ll notice I haven’t talked about using keywords hidden in your résumé, or other tricks to get an application system to put you at the top of the pile.
This approach is all about making use of the human connections first, so you don’t have to worry about how a bot is going to scan your résumé. Even big companies hiding behind solid fortresses of application software still have humans who work there!