Posted by Robert Half on 02 September 2015
This is the fourth instalment of our ‘Changing Careers’ series. Discover the other articles in the series below:
- 8 reasons people put off making a career change
- How to discover the skills I need for my new career
- Video: How to apply for the career of my dreams
- Quiz: What type of career is right for you?
When you embark on a career change, you’ll be faced with a number of challenges. From deciding which industry and job type is right for you to retraining for a new role, there are a number of hurdles to jump over.
One of the key elements to obtaining your first job in a new arena is demonstrating to employers and hiring managers that you’re the right fit for a role. A great way to do that is through a strong job application, including a tailored cover letter. This is generally the first chance you’ll have to impress a potential employer and it needs to be written carefully.
If you’re struggling to find the right words to land you that new gig, read on for some handy tips on how to write a cover letter for a new career.
1. Opening paragraph
Your opening paragraph can be simple and straightforward, and doesn’t need to differ too much from a standard cover letter. Address your document to a specific person wherever possible. The job ad will often include a name, but if not, see if some research on the company’s website or through a conversation with a recruiter will provide the details.
In your first paragraph, indicate the job title you’re applying for, and where you saw the vacancy listed. If it was a personal contact who referred the opening to you, feel free to mention them by name as this often helps personalise the letter and shows you have contacts in the industry.
In this introductory paragraph you can also note a key must-have skill or qualification that makes you suitable for the role. This will often be something that is mentioned in the job advertisement, such as the completion of a particular degree or licence, or a critical skill. As you are going through a career change, you may have to highlight transferable skills that you can bring to the job, or a new qualification you’ve just completed.
2. Body of the letter
In the body of the cover letter you will demonstrate the attributes, skills and experience you have that will make you a good fit for the role. First, though, in this particular type of career-change letter, you will want to explain why you have decided to move into the employer’s field.
You need to allay any fears that you’re not really committed to a career in the new industry, or that you’re unqualified. Write one or two sentences that explain your interest in the new industry and how your previous job experience will help you thrive in it.
For example, if 10 years of teaching experience at high school has helped you prepare for a sales career, mention the key transferable skills you can bring to this type of role. This might include that you have learnt how to communicate clearly with people from a variety of ages and backgrounds, and that you’ve honed your relationship-building and negotiation skills.
From there, it’s time to start giving specific examples from your career history. Avoid vague or general phrases that don’t show how you excelled in your past roles. Instead, focus on providing quantifiable information that is relevant to the new career path.
For example, if you supervised a team of people in the past, mention specific team numbers to show the depth of your experience. Or if you owned your own business and built it up from scratch, mention the number of customers you obtained or the year-on-year growth or profit rate you were able to achieve. You can also discuss awards received over the years or other notable achievements that demonstrate how you can “stand out from the crowd” of applications received.
The body of the cover letter is also the place to address any questions you pre-empt the recruiter or business owner might have about you. Aside from wanting to know why you’re changing careers, the reader might also be wondering how you would be able to use your experience and skills to deliver results for them. Make this clear and help them envision the difference you could make to their team.
Put yourself in the place of the employer and compile a list of questions you think they might have when looking at your resume for the first time. Once you’ve done that, write your cover letter in a way that will answer as many of those questions as possible. While you might think certain transferable skills are obvious, that’s not always the case to an outside party, so make it simple and straightforward.
In the conclusion of the cover letter, thank the recruiter or employer for taking the time to read through your application. It’s also important to be proactive and mention a next step in the process. You could write, for example, that you are available to come in or speak over the phone to address any questions they have or to provide any additional information that is required. Sign off with an appropriate word or phrase such as “Sincerely” and then your full name.
Once you’re done, re-read the letter to edit out any unnecessary or less important bits of information. It’s best to keep your document to a single page unless instructed otherwise on the job application. Make sure the cover letter is free from typos, grammatical errors and slang. Also avoid any unprofessional references to past employers or clients.
It’s often best to have another person read your letter before you send it – just in case they pick up any mistakes you missed.