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Changing Career Path Cover Letter

by Maureen Crawford HentzThe most effective technique career changers can use in their resumes and cover letters is TRANSFERABLE SKILLS, TRANSFERABLE SKILLS, TRANSFERABLE SKILLS. I recently gave a workshop specifically on this topic for career changers at the National Environmental Careers Conference. I was shocked at the number of competent, successful individuals who kept referring to themselves as “totally unqualified for a job in the environment.” These were adults with four to 12 years of experience as managers, editors and engineers.

I recommend that career changers (and only career changers) have an objective on their resume. With my clients, I refer to these objectives as TRANSITIVE OBJECTIVES. Transitive objectives are those that help a potential employer understand which skills/experience the applicant thinks are transferable. Transitive objectives usually follow a format similar to these:

To use my —- years of experience as a ——-, —— and——— in an environmentally responsible research non-profit.

Seeking a —————– position that will effectively maximize my experience in ————————.For example, an accountant applying for a research position, could say:

“Seeking a biology research position that will effectively maximize my 10 years of experience as a manager with budget and supervisory responsibility.”

OR:”Seeking a biology research position that will effectively maximize my experience in program and personnel management.”The second strategy I recommend to career changers is to use a competency-based resume [Editor’s note: Also called a functional resume]. I recommend that career changers try to categorize prior jobs and volunteer positions as competencies so that the resume reviewer or potential employer can clearly see the transferable skills and experience.Similarly, I recommend that job seekers address the career-change issue directly in the cover letter. It’s not necessary to self-disclose your long struggle with a job you hate, but rather briefly describe:

  1. what compels you toward the new field and
  2. what skills you can offer that are transferable.

I’ve seen very effective resumes in which candidates say directly in the cover letter: “While at first glance I may not seem to fit your typical candidate profile, I confident that my skills in ——–, ——- and ——–, as well as my knowledge of ——— would indeed be an excellent match for this position.”
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Be sure to use all of our Job & Career Resources for Career Changers.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.Regular QuintZine contributor Maureen Crawford Hentz is manager of talent acquisition, development and compliance for OSRAM SYLVANIA Inc., a Siemens company. She is a nationally recognized expert on social networking and new media recruiting. With more than15 years of experience in the recruiting, consulting and employment areas, her interests include college student recruiting, disabilities in the workplace, business etiquette, and GLBT issues. Crawford Hentz has been quoted by The New York Times, NewsDay, The Boston Globe, and National Public Radio, among others. In addition to her work for QuintZine, she is a contributor to the Boston.com HR blog. She conducts workshops, keynotes and conference sessions nationally. Crawford Hentz holds a master of arts degree in college student personnel from Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH, and a bachelor of arts degree in international studies from The American University, Washington, DC. She lives outside Boston, MA.

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Making the decision to embark on a new career is one thing; convincing a hiring manager that you’re the right fit for a new industry and job type can be a far greater challenge – one that can demand a compelling cover letter.

A career change cover letter would need to explain why you’re looking for a change and highlight how you can be a valued employee in a different industry.

If you’re struggling to find the right words to land you that new gig, read on for handy tips on how to write a cover letter for a new career.

Opening paragraph – identify why you’re a good candidate

Your opening paragraph can be simple and straightforward, and doesn’t need to differ too much from a standard cover letter.

Use your opening paragraph to indicate the role you’re applying for, and where you saw the vacancy listed. If it was a personal contact who referred the opening to you, mentioning them by name helps personalise the letter and shows you already have industry contacts.

The introductory paragraph can also be used to mention a key skill or qualification that makes you suitable for the role. Preferably it’s a skill mentioned in the job advertisement. For example, an administrative assistant hoping to make a career change into accounting, could mention familiarity with Excel spreadsheets.

Body of your career change cover letter – be upfront

Traditionally, the body of a cover letter is used to explain your attributes, skills and experience. However when it comes to making a career change, it is worth being upfront about why you have decided to move into a new area of work to pre-empt any questions the reader may have. Aim to keep this explanation positive, and avoid any unprofessional references to past employers, colleagues or clients.

Use the body of your career change cover letter to reassure the hiring manager that you are genuinely committed to being part of a new industry. Provide a short explanation about why you are interested in the new field and how your previous job experience will allow you to make a valuable contribution to the company despite being an industry newcomer.

For example, a decade of working in a retail environment with significant customer contact may have given you the necessary communication and client service skills to explore a new career on an IT help desk.

Highlight transferrable skills

Where possible give specific examples from your career history that highlight your transferrable skills. For example, if you supervised a team of people in the past, mention specific team numbers to showcase your depth of experience. Or, if you owned your own business and built it up from scratch, state the number of customers you obtained or the year-on-year growth you were able to achieve.

The hiring manager may be wondering how you will be able to use your skills and experience to deliver results in the new industry. By clarifying this, you help them envision the contribution you can make to the company based on your past experience.

Soft skills can be just as sought after as technical skills. Mention leadership roles you have held, or projects calling for a high level of collaboration. Describe any mentoring roles you have held.

Explain career gaps

You may be exploring a new career as a result of being laid off or because you are returning to the workforce after raising children. While career gaps are common, your career change cover letter needs to address them.

Be truthful about why you’ve been out of work, but don’t drill down into too much detail. Describe how you used the time to keep up with developments that may be useful in your new career, such as mastering different types of software or undertaking a course of study. Demonstrating that you remained professionally engaged shows you have initiative.

Think over any activity you took part in during your career gaps that allowed you to develop skills relevant to the new industry. For example, you may have served as Treasurer of a community organisation or sporting club, which helped you develop bookkeeping, budgeting and reporting skills.

Conclusion – take a pro-active approach

In the conclusion of your career change cover letter, thank the recruiter for taking the time to read your application. Don’t be afraid to suggest a next step in the process. You could write, for example, that you are available to meet or speak over the phone to address any questions the hiring manager may have or provide additional information.

Sign off with an appropriate word or phrase such as “Sincerely” and then your full name.

Be sure to thoroughly read the letter (reading it out loud can help you pick up mistakes), then edit out any unnecessary or less important pieces of information. Aim to keep your career change cover letter to a single page unless the job posting states otherwise. Finally, spell check the file to be sure it is free from errors.

If you’re uncertain about whether your career change cover letter is suitably convincing, ask a friend to review it for you. A fresh set of eyes can see your letter in the way a recruiter will, with suggestions that can help you on your way to a fresh new career.

Take a look at our cover letter hub for more cover letter writing tips and examples.

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