Drafting resumes is never much fun, but it can be an especially daunting prospect when you are changing careers. Where to begin? How to present yourself in a way that grabs the prospective employer’s attention? After all, while you may be starting over, someone else is out there with a long list of desired experience looking for the same job.
Yes, it may be an uphill climb, but don’t dismay. You have just as much if not more to offer. And you will be sure to stand out when you write a strong resume that tells your unique story. Here are a few ideas to help you get started.
Highlight transferrable skills
You have a portfolio of skills that you’ve built in the course of your career and many of them are transferrable. That is particularly true for soft skills, such as leadership abilities, organizational and presentation skills, team building and facilitation, among others. Most jobs these days require you to be familiar with a full suite of computer programs such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint which will also easily transfer to another role.
Take a good look at your past experience – both professional and otherwise – volunteer positions, hobbies and internships count as well. What have you done, what roles have you had, and how may that experience overlap with what you want to do next?
Having a hard time? It may help to look at the job descriptions of the positions you seek. Shifting to business development from legal recruiting? What are they looking for in the new job? Surely, you will see that you’ll need to possess superior interpersonal and communication skills – skills you’ve had years to hone as a recruiter.
Begin with a summary section
Many job seekers make the mistake of neglecting to add a value proposition or a summary statement at the top of their resume. Typically, it looks like a short paragraph where you discuss what you bring to the table. What value do you add? What are your top skills and how are they relevant to the role?
Are you an “experienced business development executive with a strong track record of cultivating new and existing relationships, executing marketing strategy and maximizing business performance to increase sales. Proven leadership abilities, strong communication, presentation, and negotiation skills. Ability to manage multiple projects under tight deadlines”?
Or, perhaps, you are a “versatile Program Manager with 10+ years of experience in the nonprofit industry. Strategic thinker conceptualizing and executing large-scale programs from start to finish. Lead international and cross-functional teams to implement strategy and improve processes. Strong operations experience and ability to manage complex milestones and adapt to shifting priorities.”
Whatever your area of focus, a summary statement immediately shows the prospective employer whether you may be a fit for the role. It is a good way to begin any resume, but it may be particularly valuable to individuals shifting careers. The onus is on you to help the hiring manager connect the dots between your past experience and future ambitions. A concise and clear value proposition does just that.
Use a combination resume format
If you’ve been in the workforce for a while, you’ll know that a chronological resume format is the most widely used. Listing your experience in reverse chronological order, with the most recent experience first, helps the employer to quickly understand your work history and establish potential fit.
However, when changing careers, you may benefit from a format that takes the focus away from the linear timeline and shifts it to your most relevant background and skills. Enter the functional or combination resume formats where you highlight relevant positions and skills and minimize experience that’s less applicable.
In a functional format, you put your key skills and accomplishments front and center and keep the details in the experience section to a minimum. It is often recommended for career changers, but I would caution against taking out too much information. Employers don’t like to play guesswork about what you have done and where you’ve been and will typically see this type of resume for what it is – a way to cover up for experience you may be lacking.
So, instead, I recommend you use a combination format – which is a mix of the traditional chronological resume and functional resume formats. A combination format allows you to summarize your skills and key accomplishments up front, while listing your work history in reverse chronological order at the end.
Take out unnecessary information
You’ve put together a summary statement, highlighted your skills and re-formatted your resume to identify your most relevant accomplishments. Wait. The resume is now a bit long!
Take heart -- it’s ok to leave out information you feel is no longer relevant to a new role. There is no need to list every responsibility if the task does not showcase your preferred talents. If this ever comes up in the interview, by all means, give more detail. And then, go on to talk more about your transferrable skills.