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How to Write A Career-Change Resume

resume story

Writing a resume isn’t all that easy. If you are changing industries,  creating a powerful resume—that works—is particularly difficult.

When writing a resume, job candidates need to put themselves in the mindset of the hiring manager. For career changers, that means also crafting a resume that addresses any concerns they may have about hiring someone new to an industry.

Think of your resume as a bridge to your future. To write it, place yourself in that future—what are you doing? What skills and experience and abilities do you need to be successful? Imagine yourself in the job you want and decode what you are doing and what you need to do it successfully. Then, you are ready to sift through your past to find the accomplishments that demonstrate those capabilities. Reverse-engineering your resume is a highly effective way for anyone, but especially career changers, to convince someone they can do a job.

How to Write The Career-Change Resume

The most common traps career changers fall into are making their resumes sound like a collection of past job descriptions, and relying on a laundry list of skills to sell them. Noting your skills on your resume—often at the top—is fine, and is necessary when applying for jobs online. But highlighting skills, including the so-called transferrable skills such as communication and project management, can only take you so far.

“Move out of the details, and into the big, transferrable picture,” says Susan Bernstein, an Ivy Exec career and resume coach. Your resume must tell stories about solving problems that are in every industry, says Bernstein. What are they? Money. Time. Effectiveness.

Replace that list of tasks and responsibilities under your previous job headings with direct statements about something you did to solve one of those problems. Use the PAR method—problem, action, results—to craft statements that tell stories (you can elaborate on these statements to tell stories during your interviews, but first you have to get those interviews).

Here’s how to write a PAR statement:

  1. Identify the Business Problem. For example, an engineer who wants to become a management consultant should replace statements about how he or she developed a computer program, for example, with ones that reflect what that program accomplished. In other words, why the software was needed. That might be to bring a product to launch that won 10 percent market share (more money), or tweak an existing internal process (more time and more effectiveness).
  2. Describe the Action in Terms of the Skills Needed in Your New Industry. When writing your statements, determine what skills you will need in your new job and use examples from your past that reveal those skills. A management consultant, for example, needs to analyze, research, and present. The engineer who wants to be a consultant isn’t going to convince anyone he can by saying “developed app.” Instead, he can say, “Launched first of its kind app after analyzing gap in the market,” or “Identified market gap and developed app that added $200,000 to revenues.”
  3. Lead with Your Results. You’ve probably heard that you need to include the results you achieved at previous jobs, and use metrics as often as you can. All true. But even better: let your results lead the story, not end it. Flip the sentence around so the metrics appear at the beginning. Bernstein advised a client, for example, to change a bullet point on her resume from: Performed extensive litigation research to reduce audit exposure, to: Eliminated 150K in audit expenses and avoided 3 to 6 months of auditing by conducting targeted research.

When writing your PAR statements, be sure to use powerful, direct verbs. Eliminate any jargon used in your current or former industry, and avoid going into too much detail. Bernstein suggests that you ask someone who doesn’t know about your current industry to read your resume and point out anything that is confusing, unclear or awkward. Asking someone in the industry you want to work in to read it can also help, both to point out what is not needed or relevant, and to spot anything important in the field or job that you might have missed.

No matter where you have been in your career or where you are going, your goal is always to identify yourself as a results-oriented problem solver.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and, among others.