The eternal curse of the career changer
July 30, 2014 9:24 AM   Subscribe

Hiring managers of MeFi: say you're looking at the resume or cover letter of a candidate who is a mid-life (or later) career changer. They are attempting to come into your field with much professional experience in a totally unrelated career, but little-to-no professional, paying experience in your field. Are there things about them that would make you run screaming? Things that would make you go "hmmmm...maybe..."?

My fear is that it seems like everyone only wants someone who is either fresh out of school, or else is experienced in doing exactly what the position requires. And as an oldster, I understand that I come with risks that young'uns do not. However, I am more than happy to take a major salary cut if it means I can get my foot in the door. And I am not the most professionally ambitious person, so chances that I'm going to be clawing my way up out of a position shortly after getting it are nil.

If it matters, I am attempting to move into a career where I have no paid experience, but a fair bit of experience doing the job for free/as a volunteer. I've tried to promote that for all it's worth, but so far it hasn't been working.

As always, thank you!
posted by Sockrates to Work & Money (12 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: When I did this, I created "Experience Highlights" section, right after my profile. I lumped all my experience into categories that matched the positions for which I was applying. I didn't get into my specific jobs till page 2. I used my cover letter to outline all my relevant experience.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 9:27 AM on July 30, 2014 [12 favorites]

You would get more useful answers if you told us what field you are talking about.

One thing that is always good to see is a commitment to the field in question. Someone who has spent four years getting a degree in this field has a real commitment to it, structured training in some aspects of it, and respected people who can vouch for their abilities. Random volunteer experience doesn't match up to that.

The best thing you can do is to try to network from your volunteer opportunities. Do the people you've volunteered for know of any jobs they would recommend you for?

I am not the most professionally ambitious person, so chances that I'm going to be clawing my way up out of a position shortly after getting it are nil.

That is something that I definitely don't want to hear. If you give off that vibe, I'm probably not going to hire you.
posted by grouse at 9:35 AM on July 30, 2014

Best answer: As someone who reviews resumes (but is not a hiring manager), I'm looking for the mid-career changer to address and explain the career change. It doesn't have to be complicated, but it's helpful to see a sentence that makes it clear the candidate isn't just randomly applying to a job where they don't have much experience, but that they are doing it on purpose and for a reason. (and the reason, "I am passionate about [field]" isn't going to cut it. Why? Since when? Why do I care if you love [field]?) In the interview, I like to see a willingness to learn and general enthusiasm for the field. (that's true for everyone, but I would be really looking out for it with someone mid-career and new to the field).
posted by chocotaco at 9:36 AM on July 30, 2014 [12 favorites]

The thing that makes the biggest difference for me is application materials that are legitimately tailored to the position.

Talk about how the skills that you've developed doing x will help you do y, and talk enough about the current state of y to make it clear that you have a good understanding of current practices.
posted by box at 9:55 AM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This discussion from June 2013 is relevant to your question.
posted by Mo Nickels at 9:59 AM on July 30, 2014

Response by poster: Thank you for your answers!

A little clarification: the field I'm looking at is communications.

And I definitely won't be giving off the vibe that I'm a slacker (at least I try not to do that). By "not professionally ambitious," I simply mean that I am not eager to move up into supervisory roles but am fulfilled by being a worker bee.
posted by Sockrates at 10:16 AM on July 30, 2014

I'm looking for intention, not desperation.

What I mean is that you are intentionally changing careers based on understanding the new gig - you've had some training, competed informational interviews, joined professional associations, something. If your resume reads as I AM DESPERATE FOR ANY JOB and willing to send my resume, well, I'm less interested.
posted by 26.2 at 11:04 AM on July 30, 2014

I'm looking for a great cover letter. Tell me why.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:19 AM on July 30, 2014

I'm a hiring manager, and the #1 thing that turns me off to career changers is the lack of mention of that in the cover letter. It's obvious when someone is a career changer by the resume, but the why is really important! It's the difference between someone who is deliberately changing careers and someone who is out of work and using the spaghetti method to get a new job.

I like it when a career changer is able to articulate that he or she has been in the working world for a while and knows how to operate in an office environment, and how their skills in project management/vendor relations/assisting/etc. translate well to the new role and give them an advantage over the competition who has not been in the workforce as long.

Desperation is a turn-off. Telling me that they're "willing to take a pay cut to get a foot in the door" is desperation, and it goes in the circular file. We don't really care how much pay you want, we already know how much the position is budgeted for, and if we're concerned that you won't take a pay cut, we'll bring it up to you. Telling me that you're not interested in advancement is TMI/desperation. Unless I ask you where you want to be in five years, don't volunteer this information, especially not in a cover letter.
posted by juniperesque at 11:38 AM on July 30, 2014 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Threadsitting, but wanted to clarify that I would not be telling anyone that I am willing to take a pay cut or that I never want to advance to management. However, I wasn't sure how to ease potential employers' fears that I will demand a higher salary than an entry level person, or that I will get bored and leave the position the first second I'm able to.

This is all very helpful advice. Thanks.
posted by Sockrates at 12:20 PM on July 30, 2014

FWIW - my husband just hired someone moving from big corporate aerospace engineering to mechanical engineering. Mechanical has a much lower compensation. If he wouldn't have addressed the compensation upfront, then he wouldn't have gotten an interview.

I wouldn't interview you unless you were clear on the compensation differences. Honestly unless there was something super special, I wouldn't even have the recruiter call you back if you didn't address it.
posted by 26.2 at 12:39 PM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

A good understanding of how previous career X has set you up for career Y will help, as well as a clear reason for the career change.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 1:51 AM on August 4, 2014

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