Career Change Strategies: Describe yourself “as if”

Jul 30 2012 in career change, Featured, reCareered Blog by Phil Rosenberg

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It’s challenging to try to change careers in the middle of the toughest job market of our lifetime.

When you face an average 1,000 competitors for each job, you’ve got to assume that many of your competitors are already working in the same job function, some of them doing the exact same job with the exact same skills.

So how can you possibly win against these odds?

We’re all used to searching for a job in a market of candidate shortages, when it didn’t matter if our job search techniques were ideal, because there was so much low hanging fruit.

Between the 1940’s and 2007, there was such a shortage of qualified and skilled candidates that we were taught that the best way to search for a job was using a random approach:

  • Create a broad resume that contained pieces of qualifications for a broad range of jobs.
  • Send this broad resume to a broad range of jobs where our experience matched a part of the job.
  • Send a high volume of resumes to play the numbers game.
  • Mass Market – sending more resumes had a higher payoff than customization.

Sound familiar?

However, there’s a big difference between trying to change careers when there’s a shortage of candidates vs trying to change careers when there’s a shortage of jobs.

When there was a shortage of candidates, a candidate with finance experience could land a marketing job just listing their finance experience. When there was a candidate shortage, being a smart person who was educated and good with numbers was often enough.

… That was then, this is now.

So how can you change careers into a new job function or new industry today in a job market of job shortages?

One way you can be a successful career changer is by writing an “as if” resume …

One of the problems for today’s career changers is that we’ve been taught that it’s good enough to write our resume describing our past experience from our own point of view – which is also from our past employers’ point of view.

That used to be ok when there were candidate shortages and it might even still be ok if you’re looking for the exact same job, in the exact same industry, with the exact same requirements as your old job.

But when you’re trying to change careers during a job shortage, it’s not good enough … not even close.

Instead, why not describe your past experience “as if” … As if you’ve already changed careers and are now writing from the perspective of being in your target career/industry/company?

When writing an “as if” resume, you’ll want to lose the language, terminology, jargon, metrics, measurements, titles, abbreviations and acronyms of your current/prior employers. Replace this with the language (etc.) used by your target company.

A great example is military service. Veterans trying to enter the civilian workforce after ending military service often have a great deal of difficulty finding jobs. One of the big reasons veterans have such a tough time entering the civilian workforce is that military positions use completely different language than their civilian counterparts. Often, veterans have been so immersed in the military world, they just don’t know the right language to describe their experience in civilian terms.

For example, an IT network administrator does almost the same work in the military as they would in the civilian workforce, but use almost completely different terminology. Unless a recruiter, HR rep or hiring manager can translate military lingo into civilian terms, a veteran with dead-on experience is likely to be passed over. Worse, since the terminology is so different, vets rarely get past applicant tracking system pre-screens.

However, if the same veteran did the research to learn the terminology from a company they are targeting, they drastically increase the odds their resume will pass automated and human pre-screens and that a hiring manager will recognize the close match.

This requires some advance research, since each company uses different language, even companies in the same industry, even companies hiring the same job function. Even two receptionist jobs, that are as close to exactly the same as any two jobs can be, still use different language, terminology, jargon, metrics, measurements, titles, abbreviations and acronyms to describe nearly identical jobs. Creating an “as if” resume increases in importance, the more your desired job varies from your most recent job.

Of course, this won’t work in every situation. If your skills gaps are too wide from employer requirements, describing yourself “as if” won’t be enough – you’ll need to close the gaps. For example, if you’re a janitor and your goal is to be an astronaut, you’ll probably need some additional education (like flight lessons or Rocket Science) and experience to get there. Since the majority of astronauts were first fighter pilots in the armed forces, you might want to think about enlisting in order to take your first steps to an astronaut gig.

Your situation probably doesn’t contain such huge gaps, but the point is the same. When the gaps are relatively small, “as if” language can help you shrink the perceived size of those gaps. But when those gaps are large, your experience isn’t close enough to the target job requirements that language alone will close the gaps. Typically, when you’ve made the choice to try and change careers, you’ve examined if your experience gaps are small enough to give you a fighting chance.

So what will you do? Use the same ‘ol resume that you’ve been struggling with?

… or write yours “as if”


Want to do more than just complain about a bad economy?

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Author: Phil Rosenberg

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