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Career Development

How to Explain Your Career Change During an Interview

General Assembly
September 14, 2022

So you graduated from a bootcamp, gained new technical skills from finishing a course, or taught yourself what you need to successfully change careers. Now comes your exciting next step: acing an interview and landing your first job in tech. 

On average, each corporate job attracts 250 resumes, of which only four to six will get called for an interview. Of course, only one will get the job. How well you stand out will rely heavily on the stories you tell. As someone who is changing careers, you likely have a particularly unique or interesting story, and potential employers will inevitably ask about it in the interview. It’s important that your story persuades them to hire you. 

Most people will have 12 jobs during their lives, so having to explain a career change is probably more common than you think. That’s why storytelling is critical to your job hunt.  Before you hit send on that cover letter or step into an interview and are asked why you changed careers, you’ll need to master this skill. 

Keep scrolling to learn how to develop your career change story and get actionable tips to help you nail your career changer story in your next interview. 

3 solid ways to explain a career shift during an interview

#1: Clearly define your why

According to a recent FlexJobs report, 30% of workers want to quit their roles, but feel they are stuck in unfulfilling positions. By taking action and making a career change happen for you, you’re taking a risk that will hopefully pay dividends by helping you redesign your work life on your own terms, and better align your job with your goals and lifestyle. 

People change careers for many reasons, from seeking better work-life balance or higher pay, to looking for more challenging and fulfilling work. As you prepare your career change story, it’s important to define your “why,” or what exactly those goals are for you, so you can feel confident explaining your decision

The last thing you want to do in an interview is bash a current or former employer, or come across as difficult to work with. Instead, frame your “why” around what motivates you and how your new career will do just that. For example, maybe you worked in customer success and recently took the leap into UX design after realizing your passion for creating great customer experiences. You could discuss your excitement for a new challenge that builds on your customer success experience with technical work, and allows you to have more of a direct impact on customer satisfaction. 

Don’t hesitate to lean into how your job change reflects your ability to embrace and quickly adapt to change. In the modern workplace, change is one of the only constants, so this narrative is sure to help you ace your interview. 

#2: Own your story by leaning into your unique experience

While specializing has its advantages, people with diverse work experiences tend to have a wider set of skills that enable them to adapt to different roles and situations. It’s highly likely that the skills you gained in your last job will complement your newly-acquired technical skills. 

For example, being a great presenter isn’t typically a requirement to be a data scientist, but if you have presentation skills from a previous role in business, they’ll come in handy when you have to explain the reasoning behind data-driven decisions to executives. Other soft skills like people management, negotiating and relationship-building can help you stand out from other candidates and bring fresh perspective to a new role. 

To weave soft skills into your career change story, outline a list of three to five projects or responsibilities that had a “trickling” or building block effect on your current career journey, or motivated your pursuit of change. Then, write one-liners or bullet points about the skills, knowledge or perspective you gained and how they inspired you onto your current path. Having these talking points prepared before an interview will help you more easily showcase how our past experiences will benefit the prospective employer. 

#3: Concise storytelling: stand out with the PAR method 

The PAR method is an approach to clear and concise responses to behavioral interview questions. The letters stand for project or problem (P), action (A) and results (R). Behavioral interview questions ask candidates to provide examples of situations in which they had to apply job-specific skills, problem solve or persuade. These can be the toughest questions to answer since you won’t always have the right example prepared in advance. By remembering PAR, you can respond effectively without getting flustered. 

One way to come up with PAR method examples as you prepare for an interview is to review the job description and required skills, and think through several examples of when you had to previously demonstrate those skills. You might also check out the company’s values on their website, since it’s common that interviewers will ask questions pertaining to how closely aligned your own values are with the organization’s. 

Another approach is to list out the most significant projects you’ve taken on throughout your career. Look through the list and try to remember the biggest challenge or challenges you faced during each project, and how you overcame them. What transferable skills did you apply during this process? This should hopefully provide significant fodder for any question that comes your way. 

Then, approach behavioral questions as follows: 

  • Problem or project: Think of one of the examples you tucked away in the back of your mind, and how it applies to the question asked. Often, projects are multifaceted and you likely faced multiple hurdles in each of your prepared examples. Which hurdle is right for this scenario?  
  • Action: Clearly articulate your contributions to solve the problem. Only share high-impact level decision making, and eliminate unnecessary or distracting details.  
  • Result: Create a climax that demonstrates credibility and the competence to execute again. What did you learn from this experience, and how are you applying it? 

Nailing this approach takes practice, so don’t hesitate to ask a mentor, colleague or friend to do a mock interview with you where you can refine your answers. You can always find lists of mock interview questions, including those about a career change or specific technical skill (like JavaScript or data science), online. 

Change is hard, but good

Changing careers can be hard, but the right story will show a prospective employer that you have the endurance, commitment and skills to succeed in a new position. If you take the time to develop your career change story—your “why,” how your past experiences built up to this point, and solid PAR examples—you’ll walk into any interview with confidence. Hone your storytelling skills, and you’ll inspire interviewers to tune in, remember you, and hopefully plan to be a part of your next chapter. 

Interested in discovering new skills to help you stand out during your job search? Check out one of our upcoming workshops to learn more.

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