One of my clients is embarking on a career change. He currently works in a related field, and has some good transferable skills. But after a couple of weeks, he wrote to me concerned that he hadn't had any response to his resume.
I thought it was worth addressing his concerns in a blog post because I know he's not alone in struggling to make a change like this.
The first thing you have to understand when making a career change is this: You are not what they're looking for.
That doesn't mean you won't be amazing at the job or that they are not dopes for overlooking you (I'm sure you will be and they are!) but right now, you do not meet the criteria that they developed when they set out to fill this position.
That means that if you submit your resume for jobs along with everyone else, or post your resume online, and then sit back and wait for a response, you will be disappointed. They will call the people who fit the job posting criteria and they will ignore your resume - no matter how good it is, or how well you have explained your transferable skills. It's a tight job market and they can afford to be choosy.
So should you just give up?
No! But you do have to be more aggressive, more creative and more persistent than everyone else.
The application process is stacked against you. Incoming resumes will be scanned by a machine or a human in order to find the skills and experiences that you don't have just yet (if you did, this wouldn't be a career change!). This means that your most important task is to find ways to sidestep the system altogether.
1) Network, network, network. I can't say this enough. Your best way in to the job of your dreams is through people who already hold that job or work in that industry. Do whatever you have to do to make contact with them. Use online networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook to reconnect with old friends.
Let everyone know about your goals - everyone! You never know who will be the person who can connect you, so don't restrict your conversations just to close friends.
LinkedIn also allows you to search for people by company name and job title, so you can find people who work at your target companies and attempt to make contact.
When making contact with strangers, never ask for a job. Instead, ask for information - how do they like their job? What is X company like to work for? Is there any advice they can give you about making this transition?
2) Ignore the rules! Applying for advertised positions is almost a waste of time when you don't have the right background, so you have to do more. Apply as instructed by all means, but then do some online research to find the names of people within that company. If you're lucky, you'll find email addresses online, but if not you can call and ask for the email protocol. Or you can mail your resume with a strong cover letter explaining your passion, work ethic and dedication.
3) Find ways to do the job without being paid. If you want to move into a new profession, it's much easier to do it from the inside. Many years ago when I was just out of college, I wanted to work for a particular record label. I knew they wouldn't have a job - it was a small indie label - so I wrote a letter to the owner asking her to consider letting me come and work for free. My letter must have been effective because she called and invited me to the office where I spent all day with her. In the end, she said she couldn't do it. I was only 20 and she wasn't about to let me move to a new city with no income (I don't even know how I thought I would live!), but she told me how impressed she was by my obvious passion and promised to stay in touch should anything come up. As it happened, my goals changed anyway, but I still believe that if I had continued to pursue this with other labels, I could have eventually found an unpaid position that would have let me get my foot in the door.
Other alternatives for 'doing the job' include working for free for friends or neighbors - for example, someone who wants to work in graphic design should be building up a resume of as many projects a possible. The work doesn't have to be paid to count as experience.
Making a career change can be a long-term project. Knowing your goal is half the battle - now you just need to employ some creativity and persistence to make sure that people pay attention.