There's no sugarcoating the fact that changing careers is challenging. It's much easier to move from one job to another within the same industry or field than to change careers altogether.
It takes courage to move forward with such a significant change. But it doesn’t stop at courage; to be successful with a career change, one must craft a compelling career story.
Your story is one of the most important things you should focus on when transitioning to a new career.
That's what makes you unique.
And it's more valuable than most people realize. Embrace it and use it.
As part of the interview process, you'll need to be able to tell a positive narrative about why you left your previous job/industry, why you want to work in tech now, and how you are going to contribute to the company.
Coming up with a really good story will help you stand out and can even get you the job.
No matter what your story/background is, it has value and power and can help you stand out when applying for a job.
When you're telling your story as a career changer, it's vital to find a point of connection between your story and the story of your listener. Combining a rational idea with an emotional connection is the best way to help someone get behind you, so depending on who you'll be speaking with, you might want to tweak your story a little bit.
- Who are you talking (or writing) to?
- What's their reality, and how does it overlap with your own?
- What are they interested in, frustrated by, or passionate about?
- What have they experienced that you've experienced, albeit perhaps in a different context?
When you first start trying to write your career story, you don’t necessarily have to start at the beginning. It’s ok to start where it’s most relevant for the job. There are ways to think positively about the things you've done. Connect things related to technology; those are your links to why you’re interested in changing careers.
- What were you doing before?
- What were the highlights of your career so far?
- What expertise did you apply or what new skills did you develop throughout collaborating on critical projects?
What life lessons continue to be part of how you do business today? These can be success tips and things you've learned about yourself and others through setbacks.
Think about crafting your story around a critical point when you realized you were ready to do something different.
- What changed?
- Was there a problem that you tried solving?
- What inspired you to seek out something new, and how did you make the change?
The pandemic is the best transition time, get out of jail free card. You can say the pandemic slowed the work, and you decided to go full-blown on coding.
The goal is to have a linear path. Tweak the ending to whatever company you want to apply to.
When changing careers, transferable skills are the best asset you have to get the attention of an employer. A transferable skill is any proficiency you’ve gained from previous work experience. It includes skills from previous employment, education, internships, and volunteer work.
To help identify all the transferable skills that you bring to the table, create a list with four categories:
- Basic Transferable Skills: basic skills include attention to detail, punctuality, ability to meet goals and deadlines, etc.
- Communication & Interpersonal Skills: these skills can be as basic as being a good communicator or as advanced as having interviewing or negotiating skills.
- Data / Research / Planning Skills: this is more than just being “good with numbers.” Skills such as forecasting, budgeting, and creative thinking are essential. These skills let the employer know you can set goals and meet them.
- Management / Leadership Skills: skills in solving problems, delegating workloads, and training new hires are vital skills employers look for.
While it’s natural to want to present yourself in the best possible light, be careful not to exaggerate or embellish. You’ll only create unrealistic expectations and set yourself up for failure.
Attention spans are short, so keep your career story brief (less than two minutes). Once you’ve written your career story outline, put it away for a few days. Review it with fresh eyes and ask for feedback from others, then edit out redundancies and nonessential information.
You have to believe that you can do the job so they can believe it too!
If you are worried that they won’t think you are qualified or that you’ve been out of the workforce too long, you will project it, and the interviewer will agree with your doubts.
Boost your confidence and ensure your narrative hits the right note by telling your story to a trusted friend or relative. While you don’t need to memorize every detail, your enthusiasm and passion will shine through best when you’ve prepared well for your interview.
Before you go into the interview, picture yourself in the role. Imagine what a day at work would look like and how you’d bring your skills to the table. Imagine your boss giving you a high-five for another great idea. Now, with a smile, walk into that interview with your head high, give lots of eye contact, and smile confidently, knowing that you can rock this job—and the interview!
Don’t bad-mouth: Even if were dissatisfied with your past role, avoid slandering your past employer, boss, team, or industry as it may reflect negatively on you.
Be as specific as possible: Focus on how the current job will help you better meet your needs – learning new skills, interest in the industry, or company culture.
Seem curious: Use the moment to ask insightful questions about the company, its culture, and any learning or career growth opportunities they may provide.
Look to the future: End your answer by focusing on what you want to achieve in the future. Share how this role or industry speaks to your passions or interests, how it will help you grow professionally and personally, the challenges you’re likely to face and how you plan to overcome them, and how you think it will change your career for the better.
If you've read the post until now and are still unsure how to craft your story, see an excerpt of mine below as an example (keep in mind that I always tweak it accordingly).
I consider myself as someone who constantly strives to learn new things and acquire more knowledge from various fields. I have always wanted to work in tech, so after graduating from UC Berkeley in business, I joined an IT company in their marketing department.
Now, I want to join a company where I can build those things full time.
That makes sense, don't you think? All of it is true; however, it only tells a portion of my story as a whole. I omit significant details, but it does so to give the listener the impression that my career shift wasn't just a spur-of-the-moment decision. Due to who I am and what interests me, the change seems to make perfect sense. It's my "pitch" for describing something that, at first glance, most people find incomprehensible. Still, after sharing this experience, I've positioned myself to be exceptional: I possess all the soft skills necessary to be a Software Engineer, and I have shown interest in and a willingness to gain the "hard" skills necessary to work in a new tech role.
As a career changer, you'll tell your story a lot, so I hope this post will help you craft a career narrative and bring your goals to life!