How To Update Your Resume for a Career Change in 2023

A guide to writing and updating your resume for a career change in 2021, with a Google Docs template and actionable advice from experienced hiring managers who hire career changers.

2 years ago   •   11 min read

By Resume Worded Editorial Team
Table of contents

If you’re looking to make a major career change, you might have all kinds of questions about how to pull it off. What if you’re a law enforcement officer looking to pursue an IT career, or a high school teacher with dreams of becoming a pastry chef? How do you find work in a completely new field?

If you're thinking about a career change — or are in the middle of one — this resume advice is for you.

🚩 One of the biggest mistakes career changers making is they simply reuse their old resume for new job applications.

🤷 The problem with that is their old resume is tailored to the very career they want to get out of!

👉 It highlights different skills and accomplishments — most of which aren't relevant to the career you're moving into.

🤦‍♂️ The result? Hiring managers think you're not a fit for the new career, role or industry.

Remember, hiring managers are probably going to have questions if your experience doesn't align to the traditional career path they're used to. Does this applicant have relevant experience? Do they have the right skills? Can they do the job?

It's your job to answer those questions.

How to write a career change resume

Writing career change resume isn't exactly the same as writing a normal resume. There are a few extra steps you'll need to consider when revamping your resume to prepare for a career change:

  1. Add a job title at the start of your resume. This signals to recruiters that you're specifically targeting their industry rather than just sending out your resume at random and can also help get your resume past automated resume scanners or ATS.
  2. Write a resume summary that highlights transferable skills or key experience that's relevant to the industry you're changing to.
  3. Tailor your resume to the new position by including relevant hard skills and keywords.
  4. Optimize your work experience to highlight relevant accomplishments. This is also the best place to show transferable skills like leadership, teamwork, and communication.
  5. Use numbers and metrics to show that you can make an impact with your work — regardless of industry.
  6. Emphasize promotion and career growth.
  7. Tailor every section of your resume. This might mean tweaking your education section to list relevant courses or qualifications or including any projects or volunteer work adjacent to the industry.
  8. Address the career change in your cover letter.

Let's take a look at what a career change resume looks like in action.

A resume example for career changers

Before we dive into exactly what recruiters want to see in your resume, here's a sample career change resume template that you can use as a foundation to get started:

This template is great for professionals or career changers. A summary is useful on your resume if you are changing careers or want to cover skills that aren't in your Experience section. The Skills section is prioritized to highlight any keywords/skills.
This template is great for professionals or career changers. A summary is useful on your resume if you are changing careers or want to cover skills that aren't in your Experience section. The Skills section is prioritized to highlight any keywords/skills.

You can download this career change resume template in Google Docs or as a PDF from our resume templates page.

Include a resume summary for career changers

Although we don’t always recommend including a summary on your resume, it can be a smart strategy for career changers. A well-written resume summary can help explain your career change by providing more context and background information about you. It may help recruiters connect the dots between your prior work experience and the new type of work you want to do.

What should you say in your summary? Basically, your goal is to give hiring managers an overall picture of your background and experience in two to six lines of text. If possible, you should also mention one or two of your most notable achievements — especially if they’re relevant to the job you’re seeking.

A template you can use for your resume summary if you are changing careers
A template you can use for your resume summary if you are changing careers

If you’re new to writing a resume summary, you can model yours after the following general template — just remember to personalize the blank fields with your information:

Former [Current Job Title] transitioning into a [Desired Job Title] position after [earning relevant degree or certification]. Proven track record of doing [X, Y, and Z transferable skills]. [Summarize a major achievement in the format of Action Verb + Accomplishment + Metric].

So how would this template look in real life? Here’s an example:

Former Human Resources Manager transitioning into a Mechanical Engineering position after earning a Master of Engineering degree in 2021. Proven track record of working successfully on teams, developing new organizational processes, and sound decision-making. In most recent role, designed and implemented new training programs and benefits packages that improved employee retention by 35%.

If you want to find out if your career change resume highlights your transferable skills and relevant accomplishments, upload it to the tool below — it’ll let you know if you’ve shown enough transferable skills and achievements.

Read More: How to write a resume summary if you're changing careers

Optimize your work experience section

Your work history is one of the most crucial parts of your resume — and it’s one of the first sections recruiters will want to read. Here are a few ways you can maximize your work experience section as a prospective career changer:

Always use bullet points

On any resume, when writing about your previous work experiences, you should always include brief bullet points that illustrate your accomplishments. Provide specific examples of what you achieved in your past roles, and when possible, quantify those examples with specific numbers, as in the examples below:

  • Implemented new training initiatives for retail associates that increased quarterly sales by 35%
  • Wrote and published 10 articles on company blog, boosting company website traffic by 50% over 6 months

Bullet points make it easy for recruiters to scan your resume and find the information they’re looking for. For maximum impact, they should be rich in details and data to support your claims about your abilities.

Read more: How to write resume bullets that get interviews

Tailor your resume to your new role or industry with keywords

Your resume should be as specific as possible to the job you’re after — don’t simply create one resume and send it to every job opening you can find. But how do you find the right keywords for a brand new job?

  • Read the job posting thoroughly and make a note of the skills they're seeking. Aim to address each skill with a separate bullet point.
  • Use our skills and keywords finder — simply browse the industry you're interested in or type a specific job title into the search bar to get a targeted list of keywords for your resume.
  • Upload your resume to Targeted Resume. This will analyze your resume and the job description you're applying to and tell you what your resume is missing.

For example, if you're looking to move from sales to data analysis, you might be great with numbers but not know exactly how to show it — after all, what skills are data analysts expected to have on their resume?

By plugging "data analyst" into the tool below, you'll get a full list of hard skills and keywords recruiters in that industry are looking for, including data visualization, Python, MySQL, Tableau, and Microsoft Access. From there, you can:

  • List those skills in your skills section (if they're hard skills like a specific software or programming language).
  • Show how you've used those skills in your work experience section (or in a projects or volunteering section if that's more accurate).
  • Seek further training if there are specific must-have skills that you haven't developed yet.

Read more: How to tailor your resume to a job

Emphasize accomplishments that relate to your desired position

This is one mistake career changers make frequently; they highlight achievements or skills that aren't relevant to the industry they're trying to break into.

Always spin your bullet points to highlight skillsets that your new role or industry are looking for, e.g. if you're breaking into marketing from a customer support role, highlight your experience creating marketing materials or communicating with customers to improve sales, instead of communicating with customers to just solve customer support queries.

Here are some examples of how to "spin" your resume accomplishments for different industries:

The field you want to break into: Business analysis

Skills to highlight: Business strategy and data analysis

Old accomplishment: Identified steps to decrease rates of returns and frauds, resulting in 75k in cost savings.

New accomplishment: Implemented new procedures that resulted in annual cost savings of $75k by developing an analysis of current business processes, identifying areas for improvement.

Here's another example:

The field you want to break into: Digital marketing and social media

Skills to highlight: Advertising and customer outreach

Old accomplishment: Sold over 65 company credit cards as part of promotions by answering questions and directing customers to the website, increasing sales by 8%.

New accomplishment: Promoted the company’s marketing programs and digital advertising, resulting in 8% increase in sales and 15% increase in web traffic.
These bullet points are tailored to the specific job the candidate is applying for.
These bullet points are tailored to the specific job the candidate is applying for.

Read more: How to list your work experience on your resume

Emphasize your transferable skills

What are transferable skills? It's all in the name, really — transferrable skills are skills that aren't specific to one industry and can be 'transferred' to another. A good example of this is leadership — if you're a good leader in one industry, you're going to be a good leader in another industry, regardless of your background.

Transferable skills are usually soft skills. Unlike the hard skills mentioned earlier, soft skills aren't keywords that you want to target or skills to list at the end of your resume. It’s much more effective to illustrate transferable skills through specific bullet point examples.

Here are some examples of bullet points that demonstrate commonly required soft skills:

  • Leadership: Led the transition to a paperless practice by implementing an electronic booking system and a faster, safer and more accurate business system; reduced cost of labor by 30% and office overhead by 10%.
  • Teamwork: Collaborated with community outreach team to organize monthly fundraising events; raised over $50,000 in donations within three months.
  • Communication: Collaborated with a team of 10+ remote developers and senior leadership team to assess project outcomes and prioritize future features.
  • Initiative: Overhauled service delivery processes, leading to a 70% increase in customer satisfaction.
This resume bullet point exemplifies leadership through the use of the word “led” and a specific achievement from a past job.
This resume bullet point exemplifies leadership through the use of the word “led” and a specific achievement from a past job.‌‌

Transferable skills are probably going to form the backbone of your career change resume. Unlike technical skills that you haven't mastered or industry-specific experience that isn't super applicable, transferable skills are always relevant.

Read more: How to include soft skills on your resume

List any relevant courses or qualifications

It’s also wise for career changers to list relevant education or certifications on their resumes. You may not need to go back to school unless you’re trying to enter a specialized field (such as law or medicine), but if you haven’t done previous coursework in your new field, you might want to take a quick class or two to give you a jump start in your new career.

Jobs in certain fields — such as project management, human resources, IT, or finance — might also require you to have certifications. If you complete those certifications and list them on your resume before applying for jobs, potential employers can see that you’re serious about your new choice of career and that you’ve already taken steps to make it happen.

Read more: How to list certifications on a resume

Include projects and volunteer work to highlight relevant skills

If your work history is more sparse than you’d like, or if your job experiences don’t adequately reflect your relevant skills, you can also showcase other projects that you’ve done. Projects are an excellent way for career changers to show hiring managers that they have practical skills for the new role and give you the opportunity to include keywords for the new job into your resume.

Let’s imagine that you are seeking a job as a software developer, and you spent one month last summer developing a phone app for ordering groceries online. Here’s how you might showcase this project on your resume:

Developer | GitHub link:
- Technologies used: Python, Redux, PostgreSQL, Express.js
- Designed architecture and user interface of mobile app for grocery delivery
- Enabled users to purchase food from 15+ grocery store chains

The same can be said for volunteer positions. Volunteering may not always be financially realistic, but if you’re able to do it, you can build experience and get your foot in the door in a new area of interest. It also shows recruiters that you are committed to your new chosen field — that you’re applying for jobs with intention and purpose, and not simply firing off your resume to random job postings.

Read more: How to list projects on a resume

Address the career change in your cover letter

You should seriously consider writing a cover letter for every job application you submit — even those that don’t specifically ask for one. A cover letter is a great way to make a strong initial impression on a hiring manager and provide more background on your career transition. It also enables you to create a more tailored application.

Read more: Sample cover letters

The best career change resume format

As a career changer, you can choose between updating your existing resume or starting a new one from scratch. In either case, you’ll want to be strategic about how you format your resume. Let’s take a look at the most popular resume formats and some of their pros and cons.

Chronological resumes

In this classic resume format, you detail your work history in chronological order, starting with your most recent experience. Chronological resumes are the favorite of hiring managers because they are clear and easy to read. They also do a great job of showing how a candidate’s career has progressed over time.

When you’re looking to change careers, a chronological resume format can be effective as long as your work history is tailored to your new role. Especially if you’re moving into a new industry, you should mention bullet point examples of achievements that show relevant skills for the job you want.

Functional (skills-based) resumes

Functional resumes draw attention to your skills, education, and achievements outside of the professional sphere. Although you might list your work experience, it would typically fall towards the bottom of the document, and it may or may not include your dates of employment.

This format de-emphasizes your work history, so it’s a popular choice for recent graduates and people with employment gaps. However, we recommend you do not use a purely functional resume format. At best, it’s vague and gives hiring managers little information; at worst, it looks gimmicky. Needless to say, it’s not a great look for a job candidate.

Hybrid or combination resumes

A combination (or hybrid) resume follows a mostly chronological pattern while still emphasizing your summary, skills, education, and achievements. This type of resume is an alternative for career changers — it tells hiring managers that you have prior work experience (even if it’s in a different industry) while also showcasing your transferable skills.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do employers care about previous unrelated experience?

Yes and no. If you have some experience (including volunteer work, projects, or education) that relates to your new field, it's okay to leave off older work from your previous career. Remember that your resume doesn’t have to provide a complete picture of your work history – instead of trying to cover everything, focus on those experiences that are most relevant to the job at hand.

If you lack any relevant experience or qualifications, then yes, it's a good idea to leave your previous work history on your resume. You can also keep the focus on the more relevant parts by splitting up your work history, for example into "Relevant Experience" and "Other Experience" sections.

What other information should I include?

We’ve covered the essential sections that your resume needs to have — namely, your summary, work experience, relevant education, hard skills, and other projects. Some job seekers like to include other sections such as language proficiency and interests; feel free to include this information as long as it relates to the job and enhances your application. If it’s not relevant, it’s best to leave it out.

I'm struggling to get started – do you have any other tips for career changers?

In a word: Networking! Take some time to reach out to people you already know in your new field. Find events and ways to meet new people, connect with them on LinkedIn, or set up informational interviews. The more people you know, the easier and faster it will be to launch your new career.

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