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Changing Careers? 4 Ways to Make Your Resume Stand Out

image for Image credit: Fizkes/Shutterstock
Image credit: Fizkes/Shutterstock

Creating a resume is perhaps the most difficult aspect of searching for a job. It can be stressful fitting all of your notable experience onto one carefully formatted page and ensuring that it's error-free. More difficult than that, however, is creating a resume when you are changing careers and entering a field where you'll compete with candidates who likely already have relevant experience in that field.

Don't be discouraged. Lack of experience in a specific field does not mean lack of skills, and getting an interview is all about how you present yourself in your application. [Read related article: How to Get a Job 101.]

"The purpose of a resume is to convince the hiring manager that you are the best candidate for the job," said Shweta Khare, career expert and founder of CareerBright. "It might not be an easy thing to convey convincingly if you are changing careers, but with some effort, you can stand out." 

The best way to approach resume writing, Khare said, is to highlight your skills while downplaying your shortcomings or lack of experience. Here are a few ways to make yourself look great on paper and land an interview. The rest is up to you. 

Before you submit your resume to a prospective employer, read as many sample resumes as you can to get a good idea of what the accepted norm is for the content and style of a resume in this field.

"This is a time when you want to conform to the standards," said Richie Frieman, author of Reply All [And Other Ways to Tank Your Career] (St. Martin's Griffin, 2013). "A law firm is expecting something much more conservative than a graphic design or architecture firm. If your industry allows you to be creative or unique, make sure you take advantage of it. The opposite is true as well: An accounting firm will most likely not appreciate an artistic-looking resume." 

Your resume should reflect all the skills you have accrued and demonstrate how they will be applied in the new position. For example, if you were a longtime teacher, and you're looking to get into account management, emphasize your communication, organization and time-management skills. 

"Find where your skills in your current career are relevant to your new career and highlight them," said John Crossman, CEO of Crossman & Company

Do not get hung up on skills unique to the new field — remember, you have valuable skills and experience of your own to bring to the table. Make sure that your resume clearly shows how your existing skills can be utilized and beneficial to the position you are applying for. 

If, however, you want to gain relevant experience, or feel that it is necessary before or while you apply, volunteer or freelance work is a great way to get experience, build a network and pad your resume. 

Freelancing is becoming more popular and accessible across industries than ever. [Read related article: 15 Freelance Job Marketplaces.]

"Many hiring managers feel that volunteer work makes job candidates more attractive," Khare said. "If you have volunteered or done freelance work, it counts as work experience."

Furthermore, freelancing or volunteering helps you build a network in your new field, which can prove to be invaluable as you embark on a new career path. Those in your network can provide guidance and may even have contacts to help you with your job search. [Read related article: 7 Networking Tips for Job Seekers.]

"Your network can not only help you land a job in the field but also offer feedback on your resume," Khare said. "Find a contact who works in a similar position and ask them to review your resume before you send it in." 

Regardless of the field(s) you worked in before, hiring managers want to see quantifiable achievements to know that you can make a positive change in any situation. Your resume should tell them about what problems you solved in past positions and how you solved them, even if they aren't related to your new industry.

"You need to [present] quantifiable data for the hiring manager to analyze," said Charley Polachi, managing partner of recruiting firm Polachi Access Executive Search. "What was the state of the company when you went in and what is the state today? Hopefully, it's up, and if it is, what did you do there to improve it?" 

This can be difficult, particularly if your past positions did not require you to work with numbers, but it can be done in a way that quantifies your experience

For example, let's say you were a supervisor for a research program. Instead of stating that you were "responsible for supervising researchers," you could say you "supervised 10-15 graduate research students each year by providing mentorship…," etc. 

Providing numbers makes it easier for the hiring manager to get a snapshot of the scale of your work and get a better gauge of your output. 

Utilize LinkedIn to gain a better understanding of what is required or expected from someone applying for the position you are seeking. Is there a degree you need to have?  Specific training? Unique skills? 

LinkedIn can help you find individuals with the same or similar job position to the one that you are applying for. See what kind of experience and skills they list, then use that as a guide when presenting yourself on paper. 

If you come across someone you have a connection with, like a shared alma mater or mutual contact, politely reach out and see if they would be willing to chat with you about their experience in the field. Make sure you mention how you found them and why you are reaching out. [Read related article: Tips for Networking on LinkedIn.] 

Nowadays, your online presence is just as important as your resume. Make sure all of your social profiles are clean, professional and up to date. 

If you do not have social profiles, make a LinkedIn profile to give hiring managers a more in-depth picture of who you are and your professional background. 

Additionally, you can use your LinkedIn to further establish yourself in your new industry by sharing articles and connecting with relevant voices within that field. 

Additional reporting by Nicole Fallon. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Kiely Kuligowski

Kiely is a staff writer based in New York City. She worked as a marketing copywriter after graduating with her bachelor’s in English from Miami University (OH) and is now embracing her hipster side as a new resident of Brooklyn. You can reach her on Twitter or by email.