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Job Interview Tips for Career Changers

June 29, 2021

Several decades ago, it was normal--and even expected--to stay at a company for years, all the way until you retire. However, the job landscape today is much more fluid. Aside from the emergence of freelance and remote work setups, many people now change companies every 3-5 years, and switching to a different kind of career isn’t as rare anymore. Because we’re forced to learn new skills to keep up with technological progress, it’s estimated that people on average change careers more than six times throughout their life.

As a career changer, you’re definitely not alone. Being invited to an interview is actually a good sign because that means you’ve impressed recruiters even without direct previous experience in the job! It can be more intimidating, though, because recruiters will go beyond the common interview questions. They’ll want to make sure that you’ll be committing to your new career and you’ll be able to adapt fast.

Check out these tips for doing well in career change interviews:

Be ready to explain your motivations

Recruiters will always end up asking you why you’re changing careers. Whatever your reason, it’s important to not talk negatively about your previous employer, coworkers, or clients. Instead of going into what was wrong with your old career, take a positive, future-oriented approach instead and focus on what you’re excited about in your new career.

You can briefly say that you did well or have no regrets about your previous career, but you’re looking for more opportunities for growth or you want a career that aligns better with your values. Afterwards, transition into talking about what exactly drew you to your new career. Aside from the job position itself, end your response by explaining why exactly you’re choosing the company itself and what you can do for them.

Show that it’s a serious decision

A major concern of recruiters is that career changers might be making an impulsive, untested decision. If you’re just starting out, what’s their guarantee that you’ll stick around in your new career? While you can’t make promises about how long you’ll be staying, you can show that you’ve done a lot of reflection about it and you’re treating it as a serious decision.

Because what we think we’ll like in our imagination can play out very differently in reality, it’d help if you could talk to people who are already in that career beforehand. You can also attend workshops or classes where you do tasks that are similar to what your new career will require. Either way, recruiters will find you more credible if you’ve done in-depth research about both the pros and cons of your new career.

Make plans for the future

“Where do you see yourself in five years?” is a popular interview question. This can be tricky to answer in a normal interview, but it’s even more challenging when you’re about to change careers. Recruiters want to know about your vision for yourself and whether you have a plan for succeeding.

The most straightforward way to answer this is to look up the usual progression for your new career. This can mean reaching a senior or managerial role within five years. Come up with a step-by-step plan to achieve this, which includes learning relevant skills or gaining additional experience on the side. To customize this for the company you’re applying for, read through their job description again and consider how you can improve in terms of the exact day-to-day tasks they’ve listed.

Look for advantages from your previous career

If you’ve already worked in a previous career before, then none of that experience is wasted. No matter how different it can seem from the new career that you’re aiming for, you will always have transferable skills. Look at the skills that you’ve acquired in the past and relate them to your new career.

For example, a designer transitioning to project management can point to their time management, saying that they’re used to juggling multiple clients with different needs simultaneously. On the other hand, a former journalist applying for a web development role can explain that they’re good at adapting fast to new situations and they’ve been keeping in touch with news about the field. What you usually have to pick up when you’re changing careers are hard or technical skills--but the soft skills that you’ve honed in your previous job can be carried over.

Although career changes can seem daunting, recruiters have seen it plenty of times before. It’s likely that they’ll acknowledge you as a candidate provided that you have a good track record in your previous job and you have a plan for tackling your new career.  

Bonus tip: Take practice psychometric assessments before the day of your interview. Here are some websites to practice:

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