Tips for Career Change Interviews

How to Ace Your Interview if You're Switching Careers

Employees in modern office
Kelvin Murray / Getty Images

 If you’ve succeeded in getting an interview for a job in your new desired career, congratulations! That’s a sure sign that you’ve crafted a career change cover letter and resume that successfully conveys that you're a qualified applicant, and your previous experience is relevant to your new career. During your interview, continue to hammer that message home. Here are six tips to help you have a successful career change interview.

6 Tips for Career Change Interviews

1. Play Up Similar Skills

Here’s the good news about switching careers: It’s not a hard reset. You won't need to work your way up from an entry-level position all over again. During your original career, you gained valuable experience and knowledge that you’ll bring to any new role. In fact, your former field may have more in common with your new industry than you thought.

Before your interview, list out the skills you used in previous jobs that'll be relevant in your new career. Review the job description, and consider where you have applicable experience. Here's how to match your qualifications with the job description. During the interview, sell these transferable skills, giving lots of specific examples. Soft skills, in particular, often carry over from one career to the next.

Also look for ways the two careers have overall similarities. If you’ve managed a construction crew, for instance, you’ll want to put the focus on your management skills (delivering on time, communicating projects, etc.) during interviews (and not on your construction know-how).

Or, if you’re moving from retail to food services, you can focus on your strong customer service background.

2. Have a Plan for Gaining New Skills

While soft skills can often transfer, you may not have some of the hard skills or job-specific skills needed in the new role. This will likely come up in your interview, so make sure you can address how you'll ramp up and gain this experience, whether by taking a class, finding a mentor, or researching online.

 

You can also consider implementing plans to gain knowledge and expertise even before you have the job. For instance, if your new field requires a basic knowledge of HTML or the ability to copy edit documents, you can enroll in a class. Then, if it comes up in the interview, you can say you’re already taking a class to improve your knowledge, which will make you seem proactive and invested in your new path.

One cautionary note: It's better to be straightforward about areas where you do not have experience than to be vague or obfuscate. And never, ever be dishonest — that'll only lead to unpleasant revelations when you do get the job. Keep in mind: No job candidate will have all the skills and experience required for a job. So it's fine to have some gaps.

3. Showcase Your Flexibility

Not everyone deals with change well. Companies will only take a chance on some new to the field if they're confident the candidate can adapt to new workflows, priorities, and responsibilities. During the interview, make it clear that you’re comfortable with change by showcasing moments when you’ve dealt with unexpected adjustments, such as a new boss, changes in your job description, or even just moments when you’ve handled problems on the fly.

4. Point Out Any Advantages of Your Old Career Path

It could very well be the case that your previous career offers benefits to your new career in the form of insider information or a helpful network of connections. For instance, if you switch from a client-side role to a vendor role, you’ll be able to share insights with your new employer on what exactly clients are looking for. If you’ve moved from content to publicity, you might be able to share a contact list of writers and editors to promote a product, or might have insight into what pitches will be best received.

5. Be Prepared to Explain Why You’re Changing Careers

There’s no question that you’ll be asked during the interview process why you are shifting careers. Try to frame your move as being logical — develop a narrative that conveys why you’re making this move.

Your goal is to convey that you are not flighty, and will not seek to switch careers again. Employers are eager to hire candidates who will stick around.

Put the emphasis again on the qualities that are similar between the roles, and share what makes you feel excited and enthusiastic about your new career. Be careful to avoid being overly negative about your previous career. It's fine to say that an industry is shrinking or you feel there's a lack of available opportunities, but don't harp on the negative aspects.

6. Be Aware — and Adjust for — Culture Changes

The appropriate interview outfit for a corporate job and a start-up company are very dissimilar, and the same is true for fashion and banking, teaching and sales, and so on.  The differences in what's considered appropriate aren’t only outfit-based: Different industries can have vastly different cultures and communication styles. Start-ups, for instance, often have a flat organizational structure, with feedback welcome from everyone, while more corporate industries may have a top-down structure. If the environment in your new industry will be very different, try to show that you’ll fit in by walking the walk and talking the talk during your interview. (Here's the best interview attire for every type of job interview.)

More Tips If You're Changing Careers: How to Have a Successful Mid-Career Change | 10 Steps to Your Career Change | How to Move Down the Career Ladder