Advice for Career Changers: Tell HR What they Really Want to Hear


This post originally appeared on’s career & new media e-zine Digital Pivot.


Advice for Career Changers - Tell HR What they Really Want to Hear
Photo by Bruno Barros on Flickr

Based on a recent study by, the average Gen Y professional will change careers up to four times before they hit 30. Professionals of all experience levels and industries are taking a hard look at their skills, experience, and knowledge and looking to new avenues to which those assets can be applied.

The job market is already ultra competitive for today’s modern job seekers on the prowl for the next great step in their careers. Trying to break into a field and prove yourself not only competent, but better than the pre-qualified competition, is often an uphill battle of epic proportions. Don’t slither back hopelessly into your desk chair just yet; the good news is that it’s absolutely possible to utilize your skills and experience to break into a new industry and market yourself to stand out among the crowd of equally eager applicants.

It’s easy to get noticed, but getting hired comes down to positioning yourself effectively as the best possible candidate; someone your potential employer sees as a valuable asset with high potential. In order to do that, it’s important to understand the top concerns employers have when it comes to hiring someone whose experience falls outside of their industry or focus, and how to frame your answers to positively address those concerns and instill confidence in your capabilities.

They Want to Know: Your Transition Will Be Seamless
HR has a responsibility to the different departments and managers within the organization to select, pre-qualify, and recommend the candidates who best embody the core qualifications and necessary experience for the job. Essentially, they are putting their reputation on the line when they select your resume and pass it along to their higher-ups for review. So it’s incredibly important to instill a sense of confidence in all parties involved that you can adapt and come up to speed rather quickly with minimal training and hand-holding. They’re in a time crunch, clients need attention, projects need management, and you may very well be expected to start performing your functions come day one.

Most companies don’t have the time or resources to train a new hire from scratch, and thus they’re always looking for the person with the most relevant and applicable experience to ensure a seamless transition. As a career changer, if you’re lacking the previous hands-on experience component, look at what other selling points you can use to position yourself as someone who can adapt quickly and successfully tackle challenges. Give examples of other instances where you’ve had to come up to speed quickly or learn a new skill or software on the job and how that experience adapting in another industry can relate to the new industry you’re breaking into. Talk about previous challenges you’ve been faced with and how you worked through those situations to bring value to your team or organization. Again, the key here is instilling confidence in your potential employer that you’re reliable, adaptable, and can ensure a successful and seamless transition into your new role.

They Want to Know: Hiring You is a Great Investment for Them
What in it for them if they hire you? What are you bringing to the organization that will ensure your success in the role, and what kind of return will that produce for your employer? A great way to address this area is to do your research, talk to people who work for or have worked for the organization, and get a clear understanding of what the goals and challenges are of the company. How does the role you’re applying or interviewing for contribute to a solution to those challenges, or support those goals? And what qualities and experience are you bringing to the table that will make you successful in that particular role? Give examples from previous roles or industries where you’ve made direct contributions, received awards or accolades, or participated in key projects that really resonated with the company’s goals and mission.

They Want to Know: You Won’t Go Ahead and Jump Ship Prematurely
One hesitation that employers often focus on when it comes to hiring someone breaking into a new field is the concern that they will use the position to gain experience and then move on as soon as they find a more ideal role. This is a common challenge for people coming from a mid or senior-level role in their current field who are vying for even an entry-level position to break into that new industry. Despite your interest in simply gaining experience or getting a foot in the door, it can be difficult to quell the employer’s fear that if they hire you, you may end up jumping ship six months down the road for a better opportunity or higher-paying role.

Think about how you can address this issue, even if it’s not directly asked in the interview process. Talk about other instances where you’ve worked with an employer for a significant amount of time, have shown longevity, or have grown within the organization. Give them insight into why you decided to change careers in the first place, what is particularly attractive about this new industry, and especially what it is about their organization that piqued your interest in the role and becoming a part of the team. Paint a picture for them of a loyal, committed employee who is interested in growing with an investing themselves with the organization. The goal again is instill confidence in your staying power, and thus their investment in hiring you.

They Want to Know: Why You’re a Better Bet Than the Industry Veterans
One of the biggest challenges you’re likely to face in changing careers is marketing yourself against other candidates who bring previous hands-on industry experience to the table. If you don’t have an experience-packed resume in this case, it’s all about transferrable skills and relevant accomplishments. Think about prior instances where your transferrable skills were an integral part of solving a problem, overcoming a challenge, or creating a positive outcome on a project or account. Someone else might have a resume chock full of previous related roles, but if there’s nothing that particularly stands out about how they’ve used their skills, what they’ve accomplished, or how they’ve grown as a professional, an employer will be less than impressed. Think of your career experience and relatable skills in terms of being dynamic, versus static.

It’s also critical that you be able to speak their language and understand their culture. Culture fit is just as important an aspect in making a sound hiring decision as the technical skills and experience on your resume. Employers want to bring someone on board who not only meshes well with the rest of the team and the organization, but who understands the dynamic and relationships they have with their clients and customers. Talk to others in your prospective field, get involved in thought leadership (blogging, social media, content sharing), understand who the big industry players are, and practice walking the walk and talking the talk.

While there is no proven formula for making a successful career change, a key strategy is putting yourself in the shoes of your potential employer, understanding the concerns and interests they have in the hiring process, and speaking their language. Create a self-marketing plan around those areas that you know will be of importance for your audience to address in the resume and interview process. Talk in specifics about what you are bringing to the table, how that’s of value to them, and how you can directly contribute to the goals and challenges of the organization. The end goal in the job search process is instilling confidence and interest in your audience, and painting a clear picture of value and return on their decision to hire you.

If you can manage to do that, chances are you have their attention!


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