For many people, a layoff is seen as a career setback. However, for those who are looking to make a career change, a layoff can plant the seeds of career growth.
If your back isn't against a wall—as in, you absolutely must find a job right now—a layoff could be a great time to reassess and consider a career change. The challenge is making your shift the right way. Step one? Rewriting your resume and cover letters so that they will appeal to hiring managers in your new field.
"It's got to be pretty clear to the business owner that you’re going in a new direction," Cindy Wagner of Omaha Career Coach says. "Otherwise, you probably won't get in the door—even for an interview."
Here's how to craft a resume that will get you noticed as you make a career transition.
Begin with informational interviews
Once you decide that you’d like to make a career change and you know what you'd like to do, start moving in that direction, Stephanie Licata of Sound Change Career Coaching says.
She suggests setting up some informational interviews, in which you interview someone with the job title you hope to have about their job. You could identify a few people on LinkedIn who have the job you believe you'd like to transition into, or you could tap into your network, which is multi-layered. There are the people you know directly and the people who know the people you know.
Put out some feelers and, if you get responses, set up a few Q&A coffee dates. These conversations will help you decide for sure if a new career path is right for you. They will also help you identify gaps in your skill set or education that may need to be addressed before you proceed with your job search.
Additionally, you could get some hands-on experience in the field with project work or volunteer work, it'll help bolster your resume and confirm whether you're making a sound decision that aligns with your skills and values.
Focus on transferable skills
The biggest mistake people make when learning how to write a resume, Licata says, is that they describe their job duties rather than the impact their work had on their last employer.
"Nobody really cares about your job description,” Licata says. “They care about what you did and what you know."
When changing careers, your ability to describe your skills and how they will apply in this new role is critical. You'll have to identify the soft and hard skills you've developed in previous jobs that will be helpful in your new career path. Otherwise, you won't get noticed by the hiring manager.
Soft skills are character traits or interpersonal skills that help you get along well with others, such as communication, teamwork, adaptability, time management and creativity. These types of skills are highly transferable from industry to industry.
Hard skills, Licata says, are "specific competencies related to the job." In applying for a marketing job, for example, you may be asked to produce PowerPoint presentations for clients. Here, your experience using PowerPoint in another field would be considered a transferable hard skill.
There are two important factors for identifying transferable skills: What skills do you possess based on your experience and what skills are hiring managers looking for in candidates for this role. The best way to identify the skills you have that are directly transferable is to study the job ad.
Learn to articulate your transferable skills
One method Licata uses for helping her clients learn to articulate these skills is through a "resume interview." During the interview, she tends to focus on the soft skills a worker will need to play up if they're making a change by asking the job seekers questions about their past work and what they’d like to do moving forward.
She highlights accomplishments in areas like productivity and leadership, emphasizing focusing on categories that can help boost overall experience where there may be a lack of specific content knowledge."
When it comes to productivity, for example, "I usually ask people if they'd like to tell me about specific projects they've worked on," Licata says. "What was the timeline? What was the result? What was the goal? If you managed a team of people, did you coordinate communications?"
For leadership skills, Licata says, she asks job seekers questions, such as, "Did you have any direct reports? Did you do any kind of mentoring? Even if it's informal, it may be worth mentioning."
Licata says she worked with a client who was going from a marketing strategy job in which she didn't have direct reports into a role in which she would have people working for her. In her resume, she'd highlighted her work in a women's leadership initiative, in which she mentored junior-level employees.
"Leadership has nothing to do with your title," Licata says. "You can be a leader within an organization by displaying certain skills and behaviors and we can highlight that even if you don't physically have people reporting to you."
If you're not able to hire a career coach, you could conduct your own skills inventory. Kacey Cardin, owner of The Creative Multipreneur, says she has clients list out all of their skills, including those that "seem like the most basic thing you wouldn't even bother to put down [on paper.]" Afterwards, they review the list and decide how those relate to the future vision you have for yourself professionally.
Additionally, you’ll need to understand what hiring managers are looking for in candidates. Again, everything you need to know about the job you are applying for is located in one place: the job description.
After listing essential functions, job descriptions include an array of requirements. These are what you should build your skill stories around when you rewrite your resume.
Re-organize your resume
"You have a basic resume and then I show people how to align their resume with a job description," Licata says. "The way I do resumes is very similar to a LinkedIn profile where there's key skills listed at the top.”
Of the three resume formats – chronological, functional, and combination – either the functional format or the combination format work best for job seekers who are looking to make a career change. These two formats focus heavily on skills and less on direct work experience.
When writing a resume for a specific job, "change those skills every time you apply to highlight which ones are the most important to that job description," Licata adds. The same goes for the professional summary, which should be edited to highlight specific skills and accomplishments that are relevant to the job at hand.
Most importantly, make sure the examples your provide in your application materials tie in with the employer's needs.
"Be sure to use a tie-in that demonstrates how you can use those same skills to achieve impressive and timely results in the new role," John Taylor, manager of practice development at Risesmart, says. "Keep in mind that while you don’t have the classic or traditional background that others do who are applying, you bring 'extras' to the position that they don’t. Those 'extras' enable you to deliver 'better than traditional' results to the hiring manager and team. Your differences or uniqueness is what will allow you to add greater value than others."
For more tips on building the perfect resume, check out LiveCareer's Resume Builder. This free tool makes it fast and easy to create powerful, professional resumes that capture the attention of hiring managers.