January 1

How to write a career change CV

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When you’re writing a career change CV, it can be difficult to know where to start. What does an employer expect to see on my CV? How can I show I’m the right candidate if I haven’t done the job before? In this article we’ll cover these and other questions to help you get your CV in the right shape.

Is a career change CV the same as a normal CV?

In short, no. 

If the sector you are targeting is one you’ve worked in before, your experience and the types of work you’ve done mean something to prospective employers you send your CV to. They can see the relevance of your experience, can read between the lines and will better understand any acronyms or industry terminology you use. They can quickly and intuitively gauge whether you’re the right kind of candidate.

If you’re changing career, you can’t rely on any of that. You need to spell out the relevance of your experience, skills and knowledge, and writing your CV the same way you have for previous jobs may not be the right way on this occasion.

Career change CV format

A standard CV, which is likely to be the style you’re using, presents all your experience in chronological order themed around the job title. Whilst that works well for a linear career path, it doesn’t work so well for a person wanting to change career. It presents the job titles and employers as the most important bits of information.

When changing career, it’s likely that you will need to emphasise your transferable skills gained from previous jobs. For example, your ability to lead teams, organise projects and events, analyse data, solve complex problems, create and develop client relationships. So theming your CV around these and any other relevant skills and knowledge you have is likely to get you more attention. 

The Functional or Skills Based CV

Enter the Functional CV, also known as the Skills Based CV.

In this type of CV, your relevant skills, knowledge and experience are the primary headers, rather than your job titles and employers. Most of your content will be included in this section, rather than your employment history. This allows you to bring any relevant examples of using these qualities under one header, regardless of which job you developed them in. For example, if you’ve had a little bit of experience managing projects in several previous roles, you can group all this experience together under a section header called ‘Project Management’.

This is really a different way of organising your experience to focus the employer’s attention on what is most relevant.

You might be wondering at this point, is this allowed? Is this manipulating your experience? It really isn’t. Functional and skills-based CVs are a long-established CV style. There are no hard rules on what your CV needs to have in it, so as long as it’s logical and includes key elements an employer would expect to see, the exact structure and headers are entirely up to you.

Think about it this way, your CV is a marketing document. It is not a life history, or something that needs to include every detail about everything. It’s there to get you an interview. Pure and simple. It’s also there to highlight the most important things to get you that interview, so it’s important to present the information in the right way and reduce focus on things that are less relevant.

Which CV headers to use in your CV

Important CV headers

As there are no hard rules, you can include the headers you feel are most appropriate and sell your experience in the right way. However, the following are very common headers, and it would seem odd or raise questions if they were omitted:

  • Personal details
  • Education
  • Experience – this could be called many different names; we’ll talk about this more shortly.
  • References – in reality you don’t have to include full details of your referees and can simply state ‘available on request’.

Optional CV headers

There are other common headers, these are entirely optional depending on whether you wish to use them or have anything relevant to include:

  • Personal profile/summary – usually below your personal details, some employers like these and others don’t so they are optional.
  • Achievements
  • Positions of responsibility
  • Skills – some people add a very short summary of their skills, however this doesn’t give the full benefit of using a functional CV approach, so we’ll discuss this shortly.
  • IT skills
  • Additional skills – e.g. driving licence, languages
  • Relevant training
  • Professional membership
  • Interests

Good headers for a career change CV

In your career change CV, the following choice and order of headers can work well and provide opportunities to mention anything relevant to the new career direction you want to pursue:

  1. Personal details
  2. Personal profile – briefly positioning your relevant skills and motivation
  3. Relevant experience and skills – main section with lots of detail
  4. Relevant training – if appropriate
  5. Employment – background context with dates but not a detailed section
  6. Education – if you have lots of working experience you can place this lower down, however if this is very relevant and recent it could be positioned beneath your profile
  7. Additional skills
  8. Interests
  9. References
  10. (and any other relevant sections)

Presenting your experience and skills

Organising this section

Using your relevant skills and experience as the main section helps the employer focus on what you need them to see. Under this category, list a number of sub headers, based on the exact requirements for the role you are applying for. 

It’s important to note that when writing your CV, it should be with a specific type of job in mind. Writing and finalising your CV before you know what jobs you are applying for is frankly a waste of time. You are not the audience of your CV, the employer is, you need to write it from the employer’s perspective. When they read it, they will have a list of requirements for a job which they will have in front of them when reviewing your CV. If you’ve written it without consulting that list, how are you going to convince them you’re the right candidate?

To add to this, some employers use applicant tracking systems (ATS) which scan your CV before a human being ever sees it. So, using the right terminology and referencing skills the employer is looking for will help your career change CV be seen as relevant.

Content for your experience and skills section

You can group together examples from a number of different jobs you have had around a particular category, whether it be examples of leading different teams, increasing sales revenue, and so on.

Using bullet points to structure each subsection helps to make it readable and keeps your points succinct enough to be easily read quickly.

Another tip is to use verbs to refer to your skills at the start of each bullet point. Words like:

  • Developed
  • Managed
  • Delivered
  • Increased
  • Improved
  • Secured

This adds impact, takes ownership of the task and shows action. For example:

  • Designed online learning and development programme for 200 staff
  • Delivered national programme of over 30 events
  • Secured sponsorship deals totalling over £xxxxx 

What counts as relevant experience or skills?

Content for this section doesn’t always have to come from employment. When you’re changing career, chances are some of your relevant experience and skills will come from other activities, for example courses you’ve taken, or some volunteering you’ve done, perhaps a business you started on the side. Don’t assume that it’s only your employment that the employer will be interested in.

Will this type of CV help me change career?

While it is a lot of work to craft a CV that’s really tailored to an employer, it gives you the best chance of being considered. If you apply to another employer, you’ll need to put in more work to tailor your CV to the skills and requirements of that job. So, this type of functional or skills-based CV does take more effort than a traditional chronological CV. But the effort is worth it. This way of writing your CV to support a change of career can help an employer see that you have what they’re looking for, even if you haven’t worked in that industry or role before.

Will it help you change career? A CV on its own, however well written, is unlikely to be enough to make a significant career change. There will be gaps in what the employer wants in terms of experience, specific skills. There is also a question of what your motivation is for a career change, why do you want to do this kind of job? Why are you are moving from a different career path? If you’re not clear on the answers to these questions, this will hold you back. 

Getting support with your career change

Answering these questions is something I help my clients with, especially when it comes to presenting themselves in their CV, covering letter, and at interviews. Areas where I provide one-to-one support are:

Crafting a CV to help with your career change is often one of the last steps you should take, once you are clear on where you want to go and why, and also how you will get there. Often people make the mistake of starting with looking at jobsites and applying for jobs, because they’re unhappy in their current career and just want out. Unfortunately, that often isn’t enough to help them make that change. 

You need to be clear on:

  • Why you want to change – what’s not working for you?
  • What you really want in a job and what makes you happy at work
  • What kind of jobs would suit you
  • What your strengths and skills are that could be used in a new career
  • The steps you need to take to get into your preferred new career
  • How to communicate these well to a prospective employer

If there are some gaps for you, there is plenty of advice on career change here on my site which can help you with some of these questions, so please see my other articles!

Want more support? Visit my career change coaching page where you will find out more about how I can help you find a new career path you love. 

I hope you found this article useful in preparing your CV for a career change. If you need more tips on writing your CV, you can download my free How to Write a Great CV Guide.


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