At some point in their careers, most people want to make a change — and sometimes that change is a move towards something you’ve never done before professionally. If that sounds like you, you may have asked yourself: How do I switch careers without experience? Here’s what three experts have to say.
IDENTIFY THE MOST RELEVANT EXPERIENCE
In order to switch careers without experience, you’ll need to highlight how the skills you gained in past roles apply to the role you’re seeking. “There's almost always some relevant experience in your background if you dig deep enough, so don't discount your past work,” says Biron Clark, founder of Career Sidekick. “Look at the job descriptions you're applying to and think about whether anything you've done is relevant. That's what to highlight when applying.”
Once you've identified your transferable skills, sprinkle industry lingo throughout your resume. For example, if you're a customer service representative who’s looking to move into an account management role, consider swapping "customer" for "client" or "account" where applicable. “Making this switch will connect the dots between your experience and the role, as well as ensure your resume passes applicant tracking systems,” says Chelsey Opare-Addo, chief resume writer at Not Your Mother’s Resume.
BOOST YOUR SKILL SET
A major job change might require learning certain technical skills, which can be accomplished through online learning. “It's easier than ever to learn new skills online, thanks to platforms like Skillshare and LinkedIn Learning, which offer thousands of courses for a low monthly fee,” Clark says. Taking a relevant course not only boosts your resume, it also shows hiring managers that you’re serious about making a career change.
While networking is one of the best ways to expand your career options, it can prove challenging if you're looking to switch to an industry where you don’t have any connections. One way to account for this is to reach out to hiring managers directly, says Donna Shannon, president and CEO of Personal Touch Career Services. “This is beyond just networking to find a job,” she says. “It’s a tactical approach to bypassing the HR screening process and get directly in touch with the decision makers.”
Once you’ve found the hiring manager’s contact information, be sure to craft your message carefully. Speak about your passion for a new role and how your previous experience is still applicable. “Smart managers want to hire someone who is passionate about the work, as they tend to submit better work, stay longer and are committed,” Shannon says.
”Beyond that, you need to demonstrate what you have done to prepare yourself for this leap,” she adds. This might include pursuing industry-specific certifications or joining a relevant professional organization. “For example, if you want to break into HR, you definitely want to join the Society for Human Resources Management, take their online trainings, explore certification and participate in the local chapters’ live and virtual events,” Shannon says.
Another way to both gain industry experience and make connections is to volunteer in your preferred industry. “There are tons of industry-related volunteer opportunities available at nonprofit organizations,” Opare-Addo says. “When I wanted to break into the recruiting world, I accepted a volunteer role at a local nonprofit that involved recruiting and interviewing graphic designers and social media specialists for volunteer roles. That role allowed me to gain industry knowledge to use on my resume and discuss in interviews.” Resources such as VolunteerMatch can help you find career-related volunteer opportunities.
TEMPER YOUR EXPECTATIONS
Once you're ready to begin searching for your new opportunity, ideally you’ll be able to transition to a comparable position in terms of seniority. But don't rule out the possibility that you’ll have to go down a rung or two on the corporate ladder. “If you find your job search taking longer than expected, or if you're not gaining traction, then I do recommend being willing to take a small step down in terms of pay and responsibilities if it gets you into the career path you want,” Clark says.
There’s also a good chance a lower-level job means a smaller paycheck, so “be realistic about your salary expectations,” Shannon says. “Research the market on Payscale or Salary.com.” Even if you’re OK with taking a pay cut, be sure to plan for how it will affect your spending and savings goals, and if you’re willing to make the financial sacrifice while you work your way up in a new industry.