By Amelia Bartlett

How to Write a Career Change Resume

Highlight your skills and give your one-pager a facelift.

Changing careers is an exciting time of personal reinvention.

You’re forging a new path, stepping into a new role or field that will present a whole realm of new challenges. It’s exciting, but then there’s the question: if you’re brand new, why should anyone hire you?

Creating a resume is rarely anyone’s favorite task, but it’s necessary to get noticed and interviewed on the hunt for a job. Now that you’re considering or pursuing a change in career, you need to to revamp your existing resume in a document relevant to your future industry.

In this guide, we’re going to break down what you need in your resume (and why) and show you how to restructure the display of your experience, education, and skills into a resume that transfers to your new career prospects.

Depending on how long you’ve been in the workforce, running your own business, or building your experience during college, you’ve likely accumulated a handful of line-items for your resume.

For most of us, the traditional resume format, also known as the Chronological format, has worked just in the past.

Anatomy of the traditional chronological resume

Part 1: Work Experience

In your typical resume, each position you’ve held where you’ve worked are the first impression you give to the reader. You drop in a few bullet points and boom, you’re done.

It’s satisfying when writing your resume to see your experience laid out so neatly:

Whole Foods cashier | san antonio, tx| Jan 2012 – Jan 2014

  • Responsible for accepting payments from customer, and giving change and receipts
  • Operate a POS cash register, handling 150 transactions daily on average, and count money in drawers to ensure the amount is correct
  • Bag customer’s goods in accordance with best practices, ensuring that their items do not get damaged in transit
  • Resolve customer disputes in a calm and intelligent manner

This line-up may look great to you, but to the person hiring their next hotel manager or event planner, you don’t necessarily look like someone with the right experience.

When you’re changing careers, leading with job experience doesn’t display most relevant aspects of your value as an employee. If you’re applying to become a project manager when your previous jobs have all been in sales, leading with irrelevant experience is a quick way to get your resume screened and tossed.

Part 2: Educational Experience

Achieving a Bachelor’s degree or higher is a worthy accomplishment and will almost always be relevant to your future employer. In the traditional resume, you follow your work experience in a seemingly chronological way, meaning that preceding your work, you attended college in a relevant area of study.

If you’re changing careers, it’s a toss-up whether your educational experience is particularly relevant to your future employer. It’s always a good idea to list your degree and any awards or accomplishments from your college days, but on a career change resume, this section should probably be relegated to the bottom of the page unless it is extremely relevant.

Part 3: Additional Skills

Fluent in a second language, certified in a particular type of coding, or have serious Microsoft Office skills? These added bonuses are pushed to the bottom of a chronological resume, something of an afterthought for those highly concerned with work experience.

But this is where you can truly shine in a career change resume. This is where you show what unique skills and talents you have to offer that complement and highlight your previous experiences to make you a great candidate.

Work experience only goes so far on a career change resume

More than ever, we have access to learning opportunities and unique ‘work’ experiences through technology and distant connections.

Writing for a personal blog or online publications, learning to code on sites like Udemy and Lynda, teaching an online workshop on a topic you love; the opportunities for experience outside of formal education and employment sometimes outnumber conventional sources.

Any skills or experience you’ve cultivated that is relevant to the career change you’re pursuing will be the highlight of your resume.

Activity: Grab your journal and make a list of all your skills, experience, and your genuine capacity for the career you’re pursuing. List all of it. Even tiny stuff. Be sure to include online courses, personal projects and pursuits, projects from previous jobs, school teams or activities, and extracurricular activities that relate to your new career path.

You’ll use this information in creating your new resume, which will showcase why you, uniquely you, are qualified for the career change you’re craving.

Even if you haven’t taken courses online or done some freelancing on the side, you have innumerable personal skills, or soft skills, that go beyond your work experience and transfer to just about any industry.

Here are seven soft skills you’ll need for any job, regardless of industry or experience:

  • Leadership. Your ability to take point on a project, activity, or situation and handle pressure with professionalism is invaluable to any employer.
  • Teamwork. Engaging with others is a part of every job, even if you’re a one-person team. Interdepartmental cooperation and collaborating with outside firms is imperative to business success.
  • Communication. Communication is the successful sharing of ideas, concerns, and needs with those around you. By successful, we mean that you are understood by your audience and that person is empowered to act on what you’ve communicated.
  • Problem Solving. No matter where you’ve worked or what you’ve done, you’ve had to problem solve. Challenges arise, questions are asked, and when serving customers, there will always be a need for resourcefulness and creativity in problem solving.
  • Work Ethic. This trait is personified differently by different people. Working hard, persevering, staying calm under pressure, and being consistent in your performance are key elements to a positive work ethic.
  • Flexibility/Adaptability. Quite possibly the most difficult soft skill because being flexible and adaptable requires you to relinquish your constant control of your environment. Responding positively and proactively to problems, picking up slack when another employee falls short, and stepping up to fill a vacant roll are traits every employer values.
  • Interpersonal Skills. As broad as this may seem, you can easily assess your personal skills by asking, “Am I comfortable working with others? Are others comfortable working with me?” Having empathy, poise, and professionalism go a long way when interacting with fellow employees, and a team member who has strong interpersonal skills is invaluable to managers in all industries.

Activity: Write down 1-3 instances where you’ve exhibited each of these soft skills in your work, educational, or extracurricular experience. You might add:

  • Leadership: Spearheaded an anti-theft training program at [retail job] after we noticed a rise in shrinkage of small cosmetics.
  • Interpersonal Skills: Volunteered as a third-party mediator for 25 employee sessions during layoffs at your previous company.
  • Teamwork: Worked closely with a team of 20+ on a worldwide software roll-out, balancing emails, conference calls, differing time zones, and three different primary languages.

You won’t need to put all 10-20 of the instances you list on your new resume, but starting to think about your career history in this way will help you shape the story you tell on your resume, highlighting your strengths over your experiences.

Plus, you will have a now bank of examples of times you leveraged these skills to great success that you can highlight on the resume and in interviews. These stories and examples are hard to come by without giving them thought in advance.

The “combination” resume is perfect for a career change resume

Combination resumes are a new beast, combining the traditional chronological resume format with the entry-level or student-focused functional resume.

Functional resumes are best for entry-level positions or instances where you have education in an area of expertise, but little to no work experience.

Functional resumes focus heavily on your educational experience and soft skills, typically leaning on professional (or education-related) references to talk up your capability.

Combination resumes are perfect for those who are applying for a job outside their career path, who are switching lanes altogether, or who do not want to appear overqualified for a position.

Anatomy of a combination resume

Part 1: Professional Profile

Your professional profile is your skills and experience-focused biography, limited to one paragraph and sometimes written only in sentence fragments. This is by far the trickiest part of the combination resume. It requires you to know yourself, your skills, and your audience.

Audiences might include: HR reps, department managers, team leads, or even C-suite executives, depending on the position.

In your professional profile, you should clearly and authentically state:

  • What soft skills you exemplify, along with a real-world scenario where you applied those skills. Typically 1 – 2 sentences each.
  • A brief summary of your work experience and education through the above soft skills anecdotes.
  • What drives you in your industry, such as the clients, customers, impactful work, or other service-focused satisfaction.
  • 1-2 additional, highly relevant benefits you bring, such as knowledge of a particular method or training system, specialized tools or software, or experience with a unique market or customer group.

Note: your professional profile is not your cover letter.

Your professional profile is the 30-second pitch of who you are and why you are the best fit for the job or industry you’re pursuing. Writing this paragraph takes confidence and due-diligence (it’s harder than you think to write something super short that’s also super focused and convincing!), so prepare yourself for more than a few revisions.

It’s helpful to read this paragraph aloud and note how it makes you feel. Are you inspired? Are you authentic? Can you backup the gusto with actual performance?

Ask for feedback from a couple friends or family members, and if you have access to a mentor or peer in the career path you’re pursuing, get their opinion on the relevancy of your statements.

Important to note: Many companies now use keyword scanners to vet applicants before HR spends any time reviewing candidates. Tailor your professional profile to include keywords from the job description and any relevant terms you’re certain appeal to the industry.

Follow your professional profile with an abridged summary of your work experience, paring down job responsibilities and accomplishments to only the most relevant activities. These relevant activities may focus on the employment of soft skills, but may also show you as a subject matter expert in your future industry.

Keep your resume trimmed to one page, and aim to include references.

Attention spans continue to shrink and in business, time is money. Don’t burden your potential employer with an anthology of your accomplishments. I’d advise to avoid full sentences altogether, if you can manage.

Bullet points, specific line-items, and confident statements translate that you’re a no-nonsense, serious candidate who is worth an interview.

Adding references at the bottom of the page (if you have room) is another way to show confidence in your experiences and skills. However, if you don’t have space for this, it is more important to do a great job clearly selling yourself.

In case you haven’t heard, resumes have gotten a facelift

The last pro-tip we can offer is that, while it’s still easy to organize your resume’s most relevant information in a linear-format Word document, you have far more options available to you.

Check out the templates available on design marketplace Creative Market.

Websites like Creative Market serve as a hub for individuals who want beautifully designed digital documents and products but have neither the skills or time to make them from scratch.

Once you have the bones of your resume outlined, find a template, typically ranging from $5-$15, that will help you stand out. Way out.

When choosing a design, consider the industry in which you’re applying and tailor the look to match. Look at the company’s branding, the overall industry style – which you can garner from reviewing like-companies and other industry-focused websites – and grab a template that can be personalized in a program you’re comfortable with.

Here’s a recap of how to create a career change resume:

  1. Grab the relevant information from your current resume: work experience, education, soft skills, additional skills, etc.
  2. Brainstorm all the ways you’ve exemplified soft skills in real-world circumstances.
  3. Write your professional profile and continue to tweak it until it motivates you and everyone around you.
  4. Cultivate your most valuable and high-profile references, and get their approval to list them with your resume and application.
  5. Grab a template that expresses your personal style and is aligned with the style of your industry.
  6. Plug all of this information into your new resume template and export as a PDF. PDFs always look more professional when received digitally and cannot be edited (bonus).

Making a career change is hard, but pursuing your dreams is a worthy goal. We hope this guide makes it even easier to get the job you’ve been dreaming of.