How an unconventional career move can become your biggest asset

career advice career development careers job search advice resume writing Jan 27, 2022

Is concern that your background doesn’t fit the “traditional” path weighing on you? What you’re concerned about might be what helps you the most. I’m not suggesting we pretend that bias against nontraditional candidates isn’t real. However, I do know that it can be combatted with the right strategy. Most of my clients are nontraditional job seekers — here’s what we emphasize:

1. You offer a set of skills that’s different from what’s typical.

Many clients believe this is an automatic negative, and it’s not! This is where the magic happens. In the course of your work, you’ve likely built up a set of skills that will be tremendously valuable and that those with “typical” backgrounds won’t have in spades the way that you do. For example, if your background is in project management, and you’re moving into another function — say, compliance or HR — what does project management give you? The ability to work well with different personalities, keep everyone on deadline, and quickly figure out how to overcome roadblocks. Let’s say your background is in business consulting — you’d likely understand how everything comes together to impact the bottom line. That’s not a perspective you’d be steeped in if you came up through another function.

What to ask yourself: What are the needs and concerns of the hiring manager in the role you’ll be applying for? What are the biggest skills you’ve taken away from your career so far? How do those skills meet the hiring manager’s needs? Pro tip: If you’re not sure what the needs and concerns are of hiring managers in the space you’re looking to enter, then it’s time to set up some informational interviews with people who can give you insight.

2. Simply by virtue of working in different settings, you’ll bring a new perspective on solving problems.

Candidates with cross-industry, multi-industry, or multi-functional experience often can see problems from multiple angles and generate a wider range of solutions more quickly than a candidate who has only been in one industry and seen things done one way. Many industries and functions have their own entrenched, yet ineffective, “traditional” ways of doing things, and a fresh perspective can be tremendously valuable. Emphasizing your ability to take on new challenges and solve problems will illustrate this.

What to ask yourself: What are times that you have had to navigate change, acclimate to new settings or circumstances, or learn something new? Such as mergers, acquisitions, taking on complex new accounts, or overhauling programs? What perspective do you offer to your new industry or function, having seen the problems of your current industry or function? What angle can you bring to the table that someone who has never changed industries or functions might not bring?

3. You offer fresh energy.

People who have been in one field a long time are sometimes jaded, because they’re tired. If you’re so passionate about whatever field you want to move into that you’re willing to step outside of your comfort zone, that energy will be an asset to your new employer.

What to ask yourself: Why are you excited about this move? What draws you to this new field?

Now that you have your message crafted, what should you do with it? You’ll want to emphasize these points in any interviews you go on. But to get your foot in the door, you need to drive this messaging home across all of your documents, including:

1. Your resume

There should be a summary section on top of the first page of your resume. That is a great place to briefly state how your experience thus far equips you to meet the needs of the hiring manager in the new role you’re going for.

2. Your LinkedIn profile

If you’re currently employed, you won’t necessarily want to emphasize that you want to change functions or industries, because you won’t want to blow your cover and let everyone know you’re looking for a new job. However, you can use the summary section to emphasize the skills and experience that will be most valuable to the role you’re targeting. For example, if getting teams to work well together is something you’ve identified as a key part of your message, emphasize that while leaving out the any mention that you want to use it in a different job. Keep most of your focus on the headline and summary — your job descriptions are not the place to bury critical information.

3. Your cover letter

This is the place to go all out and break down exactly how your background equips you to contribute value in a unique way. Start with an engaging opening sentence to hook the reader, and keep the letter concise — including a bullet about each point of value is a great way to avoid rambling and ensure that the information can be digested quickly by busy recruiters and hiring managers. And, in case you are wondering, cover letters do get read! Not 100% of the time, but 50–75% of the time is what the current research tells us, so it’s certainly worth writing a good one.

So don’t allow yourself to be intimidated by the complexities of a nontraditional transition. Craft your message, update your documents, and happy searching!

Want more support with developing your message and creating documents that will get you hired? Visit me at https://www.protagonist.solutions/

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