Believe it or not, job seekers who are changing careers have a distinct competitive advantage over job seekers who stay in their lane—they are uber-motivated in their job search and their new career.
Changing careers takes courage, not to mention learning a whole set of new skills, which can mean sacrificing financially while coming up to speed in a chosen sector. This type of commitment should be leveraged, and the cover letter is the ideal place to wow a recruiter by letting your commitment and enthusiasm shine through.
This article gives cover letter tips and shows how to create a cover letter that will get you the job even if you lack experience in that space. We’ll show you how to structure it, how to write it, and how to explain your circumstances to a hiring manager in a way that makes you stand out as the best candidate.
Your cover letter is your secret weapon and the key to a swift career transition. Hopefully, you have already created a functional resume that showcases your skills relevant to the position. Here’s a guide to creating a career change resume.
Your job application should include a cover letter that shines. Stand out from your competition by giving a brief but convincing explanation of why you want the job, why you are changing careers, and what you can do for the company.
Check out this article to learn how to format a cover letter, and this article to learn how to write a cover letter. However, these are templates for a basic cover letter only. A cover letter for career change should be a bit more nuanced.
Don’t forget too that you should tailor both your resume and your cover letter for each job that you apply to.
The cover letter should achieve three things. Establish why you are following a new career path, why you are the best person for the job, and exactly what you can do for the company.
A cover letter should also be short so that the reader does not become distracted. About half a page long with three to four paragraphs is perfect.
Let’s start with an example and break down the components.
August 20, 2021
123 Argyle Street
Lemont, PA 19906
Dear Mr. August,
Over the last two years, I have been excited to pursue my passion in product development. I have developed a high level of technical skill in Python and C++, and have written back-end code for five business websites as an independent consultant. With that in mind, I would like to apply for the position of product manager at Videon Products.
While my previous employment as a leading sales strategist was not in the technology space, my management, network-building, and leadership skills will bring a valuable perspective to your team. It has been a long-term goal of mine to pursue a career as a product manager, and your organization would be an exciting new chapter in my career.
I am particularly interested in the XYZ product line that you recently released and would like the opportunity to contribute to future innovations from your company.
I have been working to develop my technology skills by attending classes in my spare time and working as a consultant. I am proud to say that I recently won first place in a Hackathon geared toward new product development. Furthermore, I believe that my exposure in different industries gives me a unique perspective and makes me a valuable team member and product manager.
I am a fast and enthusiastic learner, ready to become a leader at Videon. I would be grateful for your consideration.
Always use the name of the hiring manager if possible. It makes the letter more personal. Check the job posting, the company’s website, and LinkedIn page.
If you still can’t find the name, try calling the company's human resources representative to ask who the cover letter for your desired position should be sent to. “Dear Hiring Manager,” should be a last resort.
The introductory paragraph opens with a strong statement about why you are interested in the job opportunity, your current skill level, and what you have achieved. The first sentence is a statement that should set you apart.
Most candidates will typically begin a cover letter with
“I would like to apply for the position of product manager,"
or something to that effect. But that will just put the reader to sleep. Compare that type of opening to the one in the example:
"Over the last two years, I have been excited to pursue my passion in product development. I have developed a high level of technical skill in Python and C++, and have written back-end code for five business websites as an independent consultant."
If you are changing careers, you have probably been taking steps to ramp up and prepare for a new position in your chosen industry. The body of the letter is where you can wow the employer. Tell them all that you have been doing to make sure you are the best candidate and that you deserve a job interview.
You can’t hide the fact that you are switching careers, nor should you, but the cover letter is an opportunity to alleviate any concerns that your potential employer might have when seeing that you might lack experience for the new role.
The second paragraph is the place to do this. The first paragraph has hopefully created a good impression. Now is a good time to tell the employer that, yes, you are switching careers, but you have already done the groundwork to get yourself up to speed.
In the next two paragraphs, you should explain what you have done to bring yourself up to speed in the new industry—perhaps you have taken classes in the evening, worked part-time in your chosen career, or taken on volunteer work.
You should also explain how your work in your old industry can be of use in the new industry. Granted, there might not be much crossover, but soft skills like people management, leadership, and time management are practical and useful skills for any job.
Try to think creatively here about what you have done that has increased your value as an employee. Make sure, however, that whatever work experience and skills you list apply to the job opening you are applying to.
It is fine to use bullet points if you prefer to address each of your skills and the work that you have done to come up to speed in your new career.
You should always research the company and find out what they are doing in the industry. Find a particular area of the company’s operations that particularly appeal to you. Hiring managers want to hire people who are generally interested in their organization.
Show the recruiter how your core values align with those of the company by pointing out company-specific activities or values that excite you.
The career change cover letter sample achieves this with the following sentence,
“I am particularly interested in the XYZ product line that you recently released and would like the opportunity to contribute to future innovations from your company.”
Here’s a summary of what your cover letter should include:
The introduction or first paragraph of your cover letter should be bold and resonate with the hiring manager.
The opening paragraph should describe a recent accomplishment and use a metric to show the result of your work. This should be something directly related to the job you are applying to, so it will most likely not be something that you did in your last job.
The body of the cover letter should acknowledge that you are switching careers, but it should show your motivation to enter a new profession. You can back up this claim by showing what you have been doing to learn about the new industry and to develop new competencies in that space.
The main body of the cover letter should describe your transferable skills. These are the skills you have from your old job that can be applied to your new job—like leadership, people management, communication skills, etc.
Close the letter with a definitive statement on why you are of value to the company, and why the combination of your old experience and your newly acquired skill set make you the right fit for the job.
It’s important that you study the job description and link your experience in your current role with the requirements listed. For example, the job description might state “defining product marketing objectives” as a requirement.
While you might not have defined objectives for product marketing in your past experience, you might have other project management experience that is still applicable.
Perhaps you were tasked with leading a team through a series of goals in the course of completing a project. These are project management skills that would apply to defining product marketing skills and could be applicable to the new job.
In the body of your cover letter, use phrases that appear in the job description so that applicant tracking systems pick up on the keywords.
A job posting might state that the cover letter should be sent as an email cover letter attachment or within the body of the email. Follow the instructions carefully. In the email's subject line, state the job title followed by your name unless the job posting states otherwise.
Subject line: Product Manager — [Your name]
Lastly, don’t apologize for not having years of direct experience in your new field. Acknowledge that you are changing careers, but focus on your enthusiasm and drive. These characteristics are your competitive advantage and the key to opening doors and advancing in your chosen space.