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How to Write a Career Transition Resume

Congratulations! You’ve made the difficult yet rewarding decision to change careers. The good news? You’re in for an exciting adventure as you blaze a trail down a career path that perhaps you’ve always wanted to explore. The bad news? First you’ve got to get someone to hire you into this new field.

A traditional resume—most likely the resume that you have now—isn’t the best tool to maximize your talent and experience. If you’re transitioning to a closely related field—a hospital nurse to a private nurse, for example—a combination resume format serves you well. It’s like a chronological resume, except that you begin with a summary that outlines your qualifications and certifications, proving that you’re a great candidate for this new role.

If you’re making a larger leap between careers, a functional resume is the right choice because it highlights your skills while downplaying your work history (which undoubtedly has little, if anything, to do with your new career). Since this is the hardest transition to make, we’ll focus on putting together a functional resume.

A couple of tips before you get started on your resume:

Do your homework. If you’ve made a life-altering decision about pursuing this new career, it’s probably safe to assume that you’re familiar with what the job entails on a day-to-day basis. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you know what employers are looking for in potential employees. You may think you’re perfect for a marketing or PR position because you’re a great writer, but did you know what many employers are looking for marketing staff with sales ability? You can get some information from the Internet, but a better solution is to meet with an employer within your desired industry to pick her brain about what specifically she looks for in a candidate.

Think like an employer. If your resume can’t demonstrate years of direct experience within this field, what would show an employer that you’ve got what it takes to make it in this new profession? Think through all of your potential transferable skills. Did a volunteer project incorporate a related skill? Does your hobby use a transferable skill?

Crafting a new resume from scratch can be daunting—especially if you’re unfamiliar with a functional format. But the tips below will take you through the creation of your new resume step by step.

Step 1: Begin with a clearly-stated Objective. This is important on most resumes, but it’s absolutely crucial in a transitional resume. You must tell the hiring manager exactly which position you desire because she probably won’t be able to determine that you’re applying for a graphic design job if all she sees is teaching-related skills. Example: “Graphic design job where 10 years of demonstrable creativity, adaptability, and communication skills will ensure that clients are fully satisfied with their design projects.”

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Step 2: Include a Profile. This is where your knowledge of what an employer in this field is looking for begins to come in handy. In this section, you’ll list who you are in a nutshell—as it relates to your intended position, of course. Example: “Creative, self-motivated professional who can adapt to any situation with ease. Talent for conquering new technology and software application, while retaining creative flair. Trained in cross-cultural communication and fluent in two foreign languages.”

Step 3: Make a Skills Summary. In this section, simply list all of your skills—column format is easiest to read. Include technology, languages, and hard and soft skills. List everything from “project management” to “Dreamweaver” to “French fluency.”

Step 4: Create functional categories. Depending on your experience and the job for which you’re applying, your functional categories could be “Sales Experience,” “Organizational Experience,” and “Customer Service.” Under “Organizational Experience,” for example, list all of your organizational-related achievements throughout your career. Example: “Created new system that tracked a 68-employee firm’s compliance with new federal regulations.” This is the most difficult aspect of a functional resume for many people because it can be hard to identify skills, rather than just job descriptions. Sometimes an outside source—a spouse, friend, or family member—can help you brainstorm ideas.

Step 5: End with a brief employment history. You’ve already plucked all useful skills and experience from your work history and distilled them into your functional category sections. So all you need to list here is the company name, address, your job title, and the dates of your employment. Don’t elaborate on your job descriptions.

It’s a little time-consuming, but writing an effective functional resume is the first step toward the career that you’ve been dreaming of.

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