How To Change Industries or Careers With No Experience [Video + Transcript]

By Jennifer Herrity, Host

December 1, 2021

10-minute watch

Hi everybody and welcome. My name is Jenn, and I'm a career coach at Indeed with over 10 years of experience. I personally work with hundreds of jobseekers from a variety of different roles. Today, I'm going to share some advice on one of the most common questions I get asked—”How can I change careers when I have no experience in that field?”

At the end of the video, I'll share the best place to address a career change in a job application. This is a great way to share your motivations with potential employers to help you land an interview.

Let's begin. The first step I recommend when changing careers is to recognize your transferable skills.

Tip 1: Recognize your transferable skills

In all of the years that I've worked with jobseekers, I've rarely worked with someone who had no experience. And I notice that it's very common for people to discount the transferable skills that they have. Changing careers can seem intimidating at first, but in most cases, you're not starting from square one.

Start by assessing how qualified you are for the new role by reviewing two to three jobs. Take a look at the required and preferred skills in the job description. Keep an eye out for those transferable skills. These are the nontechnical skills that can easily apply to new jobs.

So for example, I once worked with a client who was interested in transitioning from store management to recruiting. At first glance, it really wasn't apparent to her how her experience in management was applicable to the new role. So we took a closer look at both responsibilities for the roles, and there were some important shared skills. For example, both positions had to accurately maintain records, hire and interview staff.

We, then, highlighted these soft skills in her application and on her resume. Don't neglect to share these soft skills with employers. They're actually quite valuable. During a job search, employers may come across many candidates who have similar educational backgrounds and technical skills. So, the soft skills, like being detailed-oriented or being a team player could really be what sets you apart from others.

If you're seeking an entry-level position, one of the best traits you can exhibit is having a positive attitude and an eagerness to learn. Someone who can demonstrate the basics in addition to having a can-do attitude is sometimes what an employer wants most. To learn more about transferable skills, including the most common ones, be sure to check out this Career Guide article.

Tip 2: Set a goal for the next step

So, you've identified the skills and experience needed to transition into this new role. Now, it's time to set some goals that are going to help you get there. The length of your transition plan is based on education needed, time to gain new skills, relocation timeline—if applicable—and if you plan to take any time off between careers.

Let's say you want to transition from restaurant management to software development. You'll find that boot camps can range from a 12-week fully immersive program to a 9-month program that allows for more flexibility for outside work. Some boot camps also provide career services to assist with job placement. All of these factors might impact the timeline to reach the goal of becoming a software developer.

I also recommend breaking down your long-term plan into smaller benchmarks. To do this, create a monthly breakdown of the steps you need to take to become a qualified candidate in your new field. So let's go back to the example of the restaurant manager who wants to transition to software development.

The monthly breakdown for this might include:

  • Month 1: Research three to five different roles in software development. This is a new industry, so I want to learn more about specializing in front-end, back-end or full-stack development.

  • Month 2: Identify the focus area. I'm interested in front-end development, so I want to learn from a structured program, but I need to continue earning money. So, I'm going to research two to three boot camps that offer part-time or flexible online programs.

  • Month 4: I'm going to start a boot camp. It's a 24-week part-time program.

  • Month 6: Create a personal website to host school projects in order to demonstrate the new skills I'm learning.

  • Month 8: Attend one professional development activity, like conducting an informational interview with a front-end developer.

  • Month 10: Update my resume and personal website.

  • Month 11: Apply to three to five entry-level positions per week.

To learn more about how to set SMART goals, be sure to check out this Career Guide article.

Tip 3: Upskill in gap areas

So, now that you've created your plan, it's time to start gaining skills. And this is also called upskilling. The goal in upskilling is to refine or acquire skills that are essential to the role you're seeking. To identify which skills they might be, refer back to the job posting that interested you. Look at the required and preferred skills section. Look for any gaps in your skill set that would need to be filled to make you a stronger candidate for the role.

You can also use free tools like Indeed Certifications to research what's required for the roles you're interested in. There are a number of websites that offer free or discounted courses on thousands of different topics that can strengthen your qualification for a role. Once completed, be sure to add your newly gained skills to a “Certification” section in your resume. It's important to make sure that your resume is updated to reflect the skills that are related to the industry and role.

Going back to school to gain skills might also be an option. I would consider this in cases where the career you want is unrelated to what you're doing currently, and it requires in-depth knowledge and training to be a qualified candidate. While strong credentials aren't always a substitute for work experience, employers might be more likely to take a risk on an entry-level candidate that shows a strong educational background.

There are many benefits to going back to school. You can gain a network of professors and peers that have similar interests. You might also participate in an internship or training program that offers on-hand experience. In my opinion, one of the best perks is having access to resources like career advisors who are there to help you prepare for your job search.

For more information on how to find the right skills to focus on enhancing, be sure to check out this Career Guide article.

Going back to school isn't always a necessary step when changing careers. So my next tip covers how to gain experience in a new role.

Tip 4: Gain experience

Employers like to see a demonstration of skills, even for entry-level positions. And there are many ways to gain experience that don't involve participating in formal educational programs.

I work with so many people that are self-taught. And a great way to gain and demonstrate your skills is through personal projects. This shows that you've got the skills required for the work you want to pursue. And it also shows you have an incredible amount of initiative. It tells employers you're so passionate about the work that you want to do that you spend your free time doing it.

Taking free or discounted courses through MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, can be incredibly beneficial to self-learners. These courses allow you to showcase the new skills you've learned, which can be one of the most valuable things you can show an employer. Consider choosing courses that have a project built into the curriculum. If that's not an option, conduct a personal project based on the course that you'll be able to highlight in your portfolio or resume.

Another way to demonstrate your experience is through freelance work. For many careers, especially creative ones, you can prove you're capable of doing the work independently and getting paid for it. If you want to be a writer, create an online portfolio and see who needs freelance bylines in your network. If you want to work in marketing, see if anybody you know is hiring a part-time or project-based contractor. Freelancing your work means you're getting paid to gain experience, and that's a win-win.

Volunteering is another way to gain experience that you can showcase on your resume. Look within your own community to identify opportunities to gain work experience. Some organizations ask for volunteers to help with responsibilities like website design, social media management or event planning. Volunteer work might also help you refine soft skills like time management, creativity and teamwork.

Now, before I move on, let me know if this video is helpful by "liking" and subscribing for more career and job-search advice.

When you're interested in changing careers, you want to let people know—the right people. And this leads me to our next tip to help you change your career: networking.

Tip 5: Network

Networking is a key component of the job search process, no matter which industry you want to work in. Networking is really a long game. So start having conversations with people who might be able to help you find roles in your areas of interest.

Here are some strategies to consider to help you get started:

  • Reach out to your personal network. Do you have friends or colleagues with jobs you're interested in or who work at a company that employs those roles? Ask them to notify you when they see a job opening.

  • Conduct informational interviews. An informational interview is a conversation with someone who works in the role, industry, or company you're interested in. This is a 20 to 30-minute informal conversation that allows you to learn more about a professional's daily experiences and the qualifications that helped them get the job. It also gives you the opportunity to get expert advice, like tips on how to find similar positions and ways that you can prepare for the role or interview.

Reaching out to strangers might seem awkward at first. You might not become extremely close with every person you talk to. But the more informational interviews you do, the more likely you are to build real connections that could translate to professional recommendations later on. So, make sure to be friendly and appreciative during these conversations and focus on learning about the career and connecting with the people that you're talking to.

Networking is not a skill that often comes naturally or immediately feels comfortable. To learn more about how you can improve your networking skills, be sure to check out this Career Guide article.

Now, as a bonus, let's discuss an effective way to address a career change before you get to an interview.

Bonus tip: Use your cover letter to address your career change

I've seen it be most effective to address a career change before you get to the interview stage. And there's one key place where you can do this effectively—your cover letter. When switching careers, I highly recommend submitting a cover letter along with your resume. Not all jobs are going to require a cover letter, but if you have the ability to include one, even just as an option, this is one instance where you really should take it.

Create a cover letter that addresses “why” you're looking to change your career, mentioning what motivated you to make the change, inspired you to go back to school, or continue professional development. Take the opportunity to sell your past experience as an asset. Address how it gives you a unique perspective that's going to help the company achieve their goals.

Key takeaways

So there you have it. As a recap, when you're looking to switch careers with no direct experience, you should:

  • Recognize your transferable skills.

  • Establish a transition plan.

  • Fill in the gaps in your skill set.

  • Gain experience that demonstrates your new skills.

  • Network with the right people.

  • And our bonus tip is to use your cover letter to tell a compelling story about what motivated your career change.

For more information on switching careers, be sure to check out this Career Guide article. I hope that you found this information to be helpful. Changing careers can seem like an intimidating process, but it really doesn't have to be when you take time to create a transition plan and hold yourself accountable.

If you thought that this video was helpful, please share it with others. And if you'd like to see more videos like this, please “like” and subscribe and hit the notification bell to stay updated.

Thank you so much for watching, and we'll see you next time.

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