Resume Writing for Career Change

A lot of people believe that resume writing for career change means that you use tricky resume formatting to hide the skills gaps for whatever experience you don’t have and that you can rely on “transferable skills” to convince hiring managers and recruiters that whatever you did in the past is relevant to what you want to do next. I have long suspected that these resume strategies don’t work! To investigate this question, I recently showed employment experts a specific resume for a career changer, Mary, who wants to move into web project management.

Website PortfolioMary has been job hunting for a full-time web project management position for three years. She is frustrated because she has a lot of experience with technical project management, but she isn’t getting invited to interviews for what she really wants to do.

Mary’s previous career experience includes freelance production of television commercials, videos, PowerPoint presentations, and printed books. Mary has also taken some classes in XHTML and CSS. Her new job objective is to manage web projects. The positions she seeks have titles such as Interactive Project Manager or Creative Web Manager. The feedback Mary has heard most frequently is that she is being held back by her lack of advertising agency background and experience managing websites. Mary’s job search is stalled because she doesn’t have the exact history of accomplishments that hiring managers want to see, and the hiring managers aren’t buying her assertion that she has sufficient transferable skills to learn the new job.

To assist Mary, I interviewed hiring managers, recruiters, and career coaches. They reviewed Mary’s resume and then generously shared their best tips for resume writing for career change. Their suggestions for Mary can help any stuck job seeker because it helps to see how employers and employment experts think. (To protect Mary’s privacy, I am not publishing Mary’s resume online, but I include sufficient context that the suggestions still make sense). Here is career advice for Mary and for every other job seeker who is faced with the task of creating a resume for career change:

Paul Bailo, CEO of Phone Interview Pro:
Phone Interview

  • It is a mistake if your resume never specifically uses the titles of your current career goals, “Interactive Project Manager,” or “Creative Project Manager.” You should definitely include the titles you are pursuing.
  • Don’t put irrelevant information on your resume because it makes it too difficult to follow. Focus it more and pare it down to one page.
  • If you want to be a doctor, you go to medical school. If you want to be a Project Manager, you get PMP certified.
  • To get some relevant web-based experience, create a web company and be the PM for the company’s website development. Make sure it is a GREAT website.

Linda Ziemba, VP Sales and Marketing for LiveLOOK, Inc. , provider of innovative collaboration solutions designed for online sales and service:

  • To get web-based experience, one suggestion is to get involved with an enterprise development center that runs a program connecting potential employees with start-up companies. You can volunteer with a few companies to demonstrate your capabilities, get the experience potential employers want, and determine if you like the company. It may lead to a full-time position or worst case, fill in skills gaps.

Kristen Harris, Co-Founder and Owner of Portfolio Creative, a workforce innovation firm:

  • Employers read resumes VERY quickly. They skim, really, looking for specific words, phrases, previous employers, software, and skills. They do not generally take the time to interpret or try to decipher things that are unclear. You have to be concise and clear or you likely won’t be invited for an interview.
  • When writing a resume for career change, don’t list skills that are not specifically relevant to the position you are seeking now. For web-based project management, include skills such as Interactive Project Management, Creative Team Management, Client Relations, Multimedia Productions, Creative Project Management, Interactive Agency Experience, Budget and Schedule Management, etc. This list must match closely the skill list of the position being sought. Otherwise, you lose the employer’s attention and they move on to the next resume.
  • Look for positions that build on your previous background. If you have worked mostly on the client or company side rather than the agency side, look at larger companies that have or are building internal web and multimedia teams. They don’t care as much about agency experience; in fact, having internal company experience could be a bonus or them.
  • You have some good experience but it is getting lost in all the experience that isn’t so relevant. Be more targeted. Check out job postings and employer websites to see what keywords and phrases they use. If you have done that same type of work, call it the same thing. Right now you are asking them to do some interpretation and make assumptions about whether your previous work is the same as what they do.

Bruce A. Hurwitz, Ph.D., President and Chief Executive Officer, Hurwitz Strategic Staffing, Ltd., executive recruiting and career counseling.

  • First, only apply for jobs for which you are qualified. Since I don’t see the titles, “Interactive Project Manager,” or “Creative Project Manager” on your resume, I can only assume that the job descriptions on your resume don’t match the requirements listed on the ads.
  • When you say you have, “Professional Consulting Experience,” this can be code for, “I can’t get a full-time job.” Many of my clients want candidates with corporate experience, not self-employed experience. Don’t lie, but if you DO have experience being an employee, definitely highlight that.
  • Your resume has keywords on it that aren’t the same keywords sought by employers who want to hire Interactive Project Managers. Your resume should begin with a “Selected Accomplishments” section and it should have five or six bullet points geared toward the jobs for which you are applying. That way, you are framing the discussion around your candidacy and the HR Director will know why you should be considered.
  • You may be a victim of age discrimination. You don’t list graduation dates under “Education” so the assumption may be that you are “old.”
  • In the past 10 years, you have had 7 jobs. You have never been unemployed but you are a “jumper” and that is definitely of concern to employers.
  • There is one typo. There are plenty of employers who reject applicants because of one typo on a resume.

Project Management Career

Laurence Shatkin, Ph.D., Senior Product Developer, JIST Publishing, a Divison of EMC/Paradigm:

  • If you want to manage a creative development project in the field of interactive media, you need a technical background. Employers will not hire you on the basis of management experience or a track record of creativity if you lack credentials in technical skills.

Jack Williams, VP of Sales and Recruiting for Staffing Technologies, provider of information technology and telecommunications resources for both large and small companies:

  • The word “freelance” shows up way too often in your resume. Prospective technical employers might see the word “freelance” as someone who works only occasionally. Consider changing this throughout your resume, from “Freelance Producer,” to something like, “Video Producer,” or “Digital Video Producer.”
  • When resume writing for career change, you have to know the current lingo. The word “digital” is hot within creative agencies. The reason is most agencies are developing online content, the majority of which can be online or on TV simultaneously. So the word “digital” is the buzz word that could put you on the map. Consider changing your title from “Producer” to “Digital Producer” and just as important, don’t describe past employers as “boutique firms,” which simply makes your experience seem too small or too specific. You can say “small digital design firm.”
  • You seem to be someone with good experience but you are using very “marketing-ish” descriptions of past companies as if they make sense. Instead of using marketing verbiage from your previous employer’s websites, shorten the descriptions to things like “digital design firm with a focus on media and technology,” and then include the URL for these companies. Hiring managers of creative people want to see a portfolio and/or work samples. The websites for places you’ve worked and been successful are the places to start marketing yourself.

Amy Segelin, President of Chaloner Associates, a national executive search firm with offices in NYC and Boston:

  • From the looks of your resume, it is fairly generic and frankly I don’t see much evidence of interactive work or successes so I am not surprised that you are not being considered. I encourage you to cull out some specific examples of your work in the online space and talk about them in the appropriate section. If you don’t have that type of experience, you won’t be qualified for the job.
  • Ad agencies will definitely want agency experience. I encourage you to look at in-house operations that offer a mix of traditional and online design requirements so that you can more easily parlay your experience while learning new skills.

To recap, if Mary wants to optimize her resume for career change, she likely needs to add to her skills and to more specifically target her resume.

I recommend that any stalled job seeker get this type of feedback from people who are industry experts. Even if their advice is sometimes difficult to hear, wouldn’t you rather know what decision-makers are thinking rather than continue to throw resumes into the black hole of the hiring void? Many times the antidote for job search paralysis is better information so that you can take effective action. So if you are stuck in your job search and you aren’t sure what to do next, get busy asking people for help and advice (not jobs) – it works!