10 Things Career Changers Need on Their Resume

Eager to switch careers? Here are 10 ways to improve your resume. Learn how to write a summary paragraph, the skills to highlight or exclude, and more.

By Alina Dizik from FINS.com
10 Things Career Changers Need on Their Resume© iStockphoto/Thinkstock

In the last few years, executive resume writer Mary Elizabeth Bradford has noticed more of her clients seeking a career switch, even after having built successful careers in another field.

Nowadays, mid-level career changers — such as software developers who now work in finance or entrepreneurs who come back into corporate life — make up more than 45% of her practice. Many struggle to create an attention-grabbing resume, she says.

“The ability to objectively match up relevant skills to the position of choice is invaluable,” Bradford says.

Eager to switch careers? Here are 10 ways to improve your resume:

1. Do a Comprehensive Rewrite

Most job candidates make a few quick changes to their resume before submitting it for a new role. If you are switching careers, re-analyze your skills during the editing process and include every area of the business that you’ve been able to impact, says Jill Smart, chief human resources officer at Accenture, a management consulting and technology firm with employees in 120 countries.

“People changing careers need to make sure their resume shows the full breadth of their skills — operations, leadership, management, communication,” explains Smart.

For example, Accenture hires former doctors to work in their health and public service practice. Their resumes need to demonstrate not only their relationship-building skills but also how they’ll fit into the new business setting.

2. Use the New Job Description to Write a Summary Paragraph

Experts’ opinions are mixed on the need for a resume summary or objective for those looking to stay in their field, but it’s an important feature for a career changer, says Bonnie Marcus, a New York-based business coach and founder of Women’s Success Coaching, a career coaching firm targeting women.

Include a summary paragraph at the top of your resume and tie “everything in the job description with everything you’ve accomplished in the past,” she says.

For example, if the new position calls for online marketing expertise, make sure any marketing or Web experience is mentioned in this opening paragraph. Since most managers spend less than a minute scanning your resume, make sure the first thing they read ties directly to the job description.

3. Know What to Exclude

While conveying your skills is important, your resume shouldn’t be a dumping ground for every minor accomplishment in your career, says resume expert Alesia Benedict, president of

4. Demonstrate Accomplishments With Numbers

Include bullet points that show how you’ve contributed to the bottom line. Numbers, especially those given in dollars, can quickly give hiring managers an idea of your contributions — even in an unrelated field, says recruiter Craig Libis, founder of Executive Recruiting Consultants based in Dell Rapids, S.D.

While important on all resumes, for a career changer, numbers can be a simple way for hiring managers to relate to an unfamiliar work history. “Specific numbers [allow] the hiring company the ability to apply what the applicant can do for their company in the future,” Libis says.

5. Add Relatable Job Title Descriptions

Adding a short descriptor after the official job title can help hiring managers easily identify your transferable skills.

“For example, if your job title was ‘software engineer,’ but you want to transition to project management, consider demonstrating the job title as ‘Software Engineer (with a heavy emphasis on Project Management)’,” Feldberg explains. But be careful not to exaggerate the truth. “You only want to use this approach if you can do it honestly,” she adds.

6. Match up Keywords

When it comes to resume writing, keywords help you move past the electronic filters. For a career changer, that’s the first potential barrier in stepping into a new role; a resume full of accounting keywords, for instance, will have a hard time getting past filters for a job in marketing.

Bradford recommends using job aggregator sites like Indeed.com to identify applicable keywords. Find several job postings for your ideal job, paste the job descriptions into a document and find keywords by highlighting any terms that are job descriptors or mention specific needed skills. Then pick out those keywords that match up with your previous experience and include them throughout the first page of your resume, says Bradford.

“Most job seekers are surprised how many matching and relevant skills they find in these job descriptions,” she says.

7. Use a Mixed Format

When working with career switchers, resume writer Robyn Feldberg creates a functional-style resume on the first page and includes the traditional chronological format on the second page. “In other words, the first page looks like a glorified profile,” says Dallas-based Feldberg who runs Abundant Success Coach, a career coaching and resume writing service.

Since the functional format focuses more on skills, you can use it to draw the hiring manager in with relevant experience without worrying about the chronology. Combining both resume formats helps to highlight the various transferable skills while still providing a look at the job history, she adds.

8. Drop Names to Show Previous Success

Showing that you’ve been able to succeed and work with established industry leaders in your previous career shouldn’t be saved for the interview; instead, weave it into your resume to get a hiring manager’s attention, says Theresa Szczurek, chief executive Radish Systems, a Boulder-based software firm. A bullet point may read: “Closed $2 million in new sales in 12 months with industry leaders XYZ,” she explains.

Especially when applying for a position where you don’t have prior experience, it’s important to show that you’ve have the support of top industry leaders and were able to make a difference in your previous role.

9. Highlight Non-Work Related Experience

As a career changer, the extracurricular activities on your resume will carry more weight, say experts. Be sure to include activities that relate to your desired role like professional association memberships, volunteering, internships or part-time consulting.

For example, “if you’re looking to move into Web or database development, volunteer [your] time … creating a website or database for schools, churches, non-profits,” and then highlight your role on your resume, suggests Mike McBrierty, chief operating officer of the technology staffing division of Eliassen Group, an IT recruiting firm based in Wakefield, Mass.

10. Find Natural Alignments

From a human resources perspective, there are certain accomplishments that are similar across different management structures and firms.

“Look for things about your current position that would have meaning to the person considering you for the new position,” says Luke Tanen who left the music industry to work as the director of the Chicago Innovation Awards. For example, Tanen’s mention of closing sponsorship deals was similarly impressive in both fields. “In seeing that the Chicago Innovation Awards were [free] in the job posting, I was quite certain that sponsors play a big role in this program. So I made a point to highlight it as my top bullet point from my past experience securing music sponsorships.”

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