For Staffing Advisors’ updated 2023 guidance on interviewing for career changes, read How to Explain Resume Gaps and Career Changes With Confidence.

Do you need to make the jump from a declining industry to a thriving one? Or have you decided that it’s time to make a significant career change, jumping into a field where you have very little experience? Career changes are entirely possible, but they are not easy. You cannot simply send out resumes. This kind of job search requires special preparation and some extra grit in the face of obstacles. When you make a big career change, you are navigating in new terrain where your resume itself is your primary obstacle. You just don’t “look good on paper” compared with “industry insiders” who are not making a career change.

Why Career Jumps Are Difficult

Recognize that an interviewer’s mental picture of their ideal candidate is probably very different from what you bring to the table. In your cover letter and interview process, acknowledge that fact. You might say something like this:

“You’re probably looking for someone with [the standard type of experience]. Obviously, that’s not my background. What might be less obvious is the value of my experience and how that new perspective might be useful to your organization. I can help you achieve [the necessary business impact] in this [different, maybe better] way.”

What this approach demonstrates is your understanding of the context of the situation. You know what the organization wants to achieve, you have thought about how you can help them accomplish their goals, and you outlined how your strengths could be even more of an asset than could be expected from someone from a more familiar background.

What to Do When You Don’t ‘Fit the Mold’

Sometimes your skills don’t fit the “Hollywood casting” picture people associate with a certain job. For example, the stereotypical salesperson is very extroverted, happy to meet new people, and willing to talk your ear off. But the reality is that sales professionals can be effective regardless of being introverted or extroverted. A more introverted sales candidate should acknowledge that they don’t fit the stereotype while highlighting their strengths:

“What I’ve found is that instead of talking too much, I get better results by listening, thinking deeply about the client’s needs, and then coming back with a solution that really fits the client’s situation. I have achieved my results not by ‘selling myself first’ but by creating an environment where I earn the client’s trust by first listening to understand them.”

The key to success in a career change is to freely acknowledge that you don’t fit the mental picture of the “ideal candidate” while giving the hiring manager a new frame of reference. There are many paths to competency, and your route is simply different than the path other people travel. You simply need to prove that you can get better results than people who arrived on the traditional path.

It’s important that you not only do great research but that you be mentally flexible in your approach. Sometimes, you need to turn your career ladder horizontally to move forward, like a skilled mountaineer crossing a chasm. (Here’s a case study of how my friend George made his own jump.)

The Staffing Advisors team has successfully completed hundreds of executive searches. We know from experience that the job search process is stressful for even the most accomplished executives. But it doesn’t have to be. Download our complete Guide to Executive Job Search for a step-by-step guide to guide a successful career transition.