A career change cover letter is substantively different than your standard job application cover letter. Someone tackling a career change will have nontraditional skills and background for the job, so it’s that much more important to stand out among the competition.
This guide will show you how to write a career change cover letter that’s persuasive and brands you for the job you want.
Career changers are in a good job market right now
It’s also good to know that the current job market is in your favor. Unemployment in the U.S. is very low. “Recruiting in low unemployment continues to be a challenge for companies, while finding candidates who are a good ‘culture fit’ is an increasingly important component of hiring processes,” writes Pete Newsome, founder of the Orlando-based staffing agency 4 Corner Resources. He says employers that hire solely based on experience instead of potential may be short-sighted and risk overlooking a perfect candidate.
“Hard skills can be taught, but attitude can’t,” he explains.
Request an informational interview in your cover letter
Executive career coach and resume specialist Victoria Ipri tells InHersight she recommends sending a “request for informational interview” letter (or a letter of interest) first when seeking a career change, before actually applying for a specific job with standard a cover letter and resume.
The request is a technique to get a face-to-face meeting with “someone in the know” at a company where the candidate wishes to apply, especially for positions that aren’t yet advertised, she explains.
When I recently shared my “dream” job with several coworkers, your name came up as someone who is very experienced and knowledgeable in this arena.
I am seriously considering a career transition from [current role] to [ideal role]. Before I make the jump, however, I need to gain a deeper understanding of what is involved, in terms of culture, style, opportunities, and future employment/growth in this field. These are the points I’d specifically like to discuss with you.
Might we meet up for coffee or lunch sometime next week? My treat, of course—or I could come by your office for a brief chat at your convenience.
This is not an attempt to market myself to your company. I won’t even bring along my resume unless you think it may be helpful. I’m simply at the information gathering stage.
Thanks in advance for agreeing to this brief meeting. I very much look forward to learning from you!
Networking should also play a role in your job search, says career coach Rose Keating. And don’t forget to drop names in your career change cover letter. “If you know someone who works at the company or someone referred you to the open position, mention their name in the opening line of the cover letter. People are much more likely to respond to you, if you know someone they have a relationship with.”
Pursuing a "transition role" can help you beef up your letter
She uses the example of a scientist in a lab who wants to move into branding and marketing in a corporate setting. Her advice is to apply to a pharmaceutical or medical company, leveraging your knowledge, skills, and experience, so you’re in the right setting to move forward with your career change.
The first move may put you in an interim position, she says. But it’ll give you the skill sets and experience so that you can ultimately land the job you want. This kind of move can add a lot to your cover letter as you seek a new career.
How to write a career change cover letter that really knocks their socks off
Address your non-traditional background head-on
Austin Belcak, founder of Cultivated Culture, knew his non-traditional background could prove a tough hurdle when applying for the position of digital advertising sales account manager at Google. However, he also knew cultural fit played a big role in the company’s hiring decisions.
If you don’t feel qualified for the role you’re interested, Belcak’s advice is to tackle that head-on. He does this in his cover letter to Google:
You might notice that there isn’t much “traditional” digital experience on my resume. That is because, coming from a scientific background, I needed to take a different path. In an effort to gain experience, I created my own agency called OpenWater Analytics. I specialized in using AdWords to generate real estate leads for private communities. I managed the entire sales process from cold outreach, to closing, to servicing the accounts on your platform.
Most recently, I helped a community in South Carolina sell every listing on their site (about 15 homes) in less than 6 months. Our cost per lead was half of the competition and we did it all for less than the commission the realtor would have made on a single house (including ad spend).
Read more: Companies Where Career Changes Are Risk Free
Show them how you’ve accomplished everything they’re looking for...just in a different industry
Another example of a career change cover letter comes from career advice writer and resume expert Tom Gerencer. This sample is from a program administrator applying for the role of IT project manager:
Dear [Hiring Manager Name],
I'm so excited to apply for the IT Project Manager position at Weniger Aerospace.
At A/G Systems, I saved 10 meeting hours a week for 20 engineers. I did it by automating our program requirements management with Oracle Primavera. At $90 an hour, that’s $864,000 saved per year. I'm proud of that—not least because my title wasn't "IT PMP" but "Program Administrator." Transitioning to 100% IT PMP at Weniger would use my IT skills and passion to the full.
I know you're looking for an IT PMP with 5+ years of experience. I've spent 6 years creating robust IT systems with these achievements in the skill areas in your ad:
Customer relationship management. Worked directly with 200+ customers to integrate our software into daily workflows. Slashed complaints by 25 percent.
Training. Trained, mentored, and on-boarded 15 new IT hires. Handled all new user training, cutting customer issues 30 percent. Gave software training to 12 business units nationwide.
Automation. Led project to develop custom ERP software, automating requirements-tracking from 20,000 customers and 150+ programs.
Programming. Wrote test scripts and coordinated testing through cross-functional teams. Expanded custom software to integrate with ERP. Slashed daily disruptions 50 percent.
I'm very interested in sharing how I can deliver IT PMP excellence at Weniger Aerospace. Can we schedule a call?
PS—I'm also happy to explain how I used Oracle Primavera to automate project tracking, eliminating 120+ work-hours per year.
Tell them why you’re excited to pursue a career change
It’s important to explain in your cover letter why you are making a career change, says resume writer and personal branding strategist Megan Koehler. “You want to convey an authentic desire to make the move to a new career. Provide a reason why you are seeking the change with rationale to support it,” she explains, and provides the following example:
Some might find it strange that after a successful and far-reaching career in information technology management that I would redirect my professional vision to teaching high school math. I, however, find that this is a path that supports my natural ability to guide and coach others in the exploration and discovery of solutions to complex problems.
I approached the process of becoming a teacher as I do every endeavor I embark upon: 100 percent dedication and commitment to the task at hand. My natural enthusiasm supports my ability to teach, inspire, and motivate others and I would welcome the opportunity to apply my skills and expertise at Anytown High School.
Recruiter Megan Lipera agrees that you should address the career change in your cover letter. “Include why you wanted to make this change and show how enthusiastic you are about the new venture,” she tells us, adding that you need to highlight your transferable skills. If you’re a teacher who wants to move into human resources, for instance, Lipera says you were probably doing some HR-related tasks.
Don’t sell yourself short
When moving into a very different career from your background, learn how to recognize and define the skill sets you have in order to present them to a potential employer. In the case of a job seeker who wanted to move from her home-based daycare business into a more traditional office job, for example, her transferable skills include:
Marketing to recruit new clients
Program development for young children
A functional resume, which concentrates on qualifications and relevant skills rather than work history, is perfect in a case when you’re changing careers or have non-traditional work experience. The cover letter doesn’t repeat, but expands on and explains those abilities and skill sets, providing proof of your accomplishments.