person sitting on a couch typing a cover letter on their laptop
Westend61/Getty Images

Preparing for a career change can feel like walking up to a ride at Six Flags: It’s exciting, but also somewhat terrifying. What if, for example, some less open-minded hiring manager takes a look at your resume and dumps it right into the “no” pile because they don’t immediately understand why someone who’s spent their career in software engineering is applying for a financial analyst role? That’s where your cover letter comes in.

I know, drafting a cover letter—let alone a compelling one—can be stressful and time-consuming. But cover letters are a potent secret weapon for career changers. While resumes can be a great way to showcase your work experience, cover letters give you the opportunity to explain how that experience will help you excel in your next role. And you always want to do everything you can to help sell a prospective employer on why you’re the right person for the job.

5 steps to a persuasive career change cover letter

Here’s your step-by-step guide to writing a career change cover letter that’ll tell your unique story and help a hiring manager envision how you would benefit their organization.

1. Start strong with a unique opener.

Get the reader’s attention right away by putting the opening line of your cover letter to work! Don’t start with a tired old trope about being the perfect person for the job, and avoid leading with the sentence, “I’m excited to apply for [role] at [Company],” if you want to maximize your opportunity to draw the hiring manager in.

Ask a question, tell a story, or begin with an interesting tidbit about your experience or maybe a short anecdote that leads into why you’ve decided to switch career paths. Just be sure it relates to the specific role for which you’re applying.

2. Introduce yourself—succinctly.

If you could only tell a hiring manager three things about yourself, what would they be? How do you want to market or package your experience?

For example, are you a tech-savvy customer relations specialist eager to flex your talents in a sales role? Are you an exceptionally organized office manager looking to make a move into human resources? Are you a graphic designer turned software engineer on the lookout for a job where you can blend your creativity with your technical expertise? Use this portion of your cover letter to emphasize those qualities that make you a unique individual and employee.

There’s no need to include your entire life story here, so try to avoid over-explaining your experience with sentences like, “After graduating from college in 2015, I decided to apply for an administrative assistant job…” Instead, try a line like, “I’m an organized, deadline-driven administrative assistant with a talent for wordsmithing executive emails and jazzing up corporate announcements.” Your goal should be to keep your introduction short, snappy, and relevant to the job.

3. Share your career-change story.

This is where you explain the why behind your career change. Were you inspired by a newsworthy event? Have you always secretly wanted to be in this industry? Did working on a side project spark your interest in pursuing it full time? Give the hiring manager a little insight into why you’re so excited about their job opening, despite your unconventional background.

4. Highlight your transferable skills.

This is going to be the meat of your cover letter. Hiring managers are notoriously short on time, so don’t send them on a scavenger hunt to figure out how your experience might make you a great fit for the job—they’re more likely to just throw the indecipherable map away and move on to the next applicant. Instead, connect the dots for them as clearly and concisely as possible by emphasizing your transferable skills and experience.

Bullet points can be effective in doing this in an organized and efficient way. Try pulling out the top three to five skills that are required for this role, and then briefly explaining how your experience relates to each. Even better? Provide evidence demonstrating that your experience created a positive impact or contributed to team or company goals. Hiring managers can’t help but be impressed by hard numbers and facts.

Be realistic here. If you don’t have any familiarity with a particular topic, don’t mention it in your cover letter. Stretching the truth might land you an initial interview, but your fib will almost always catch up with you in the end.

Whatever you do, don’t apologize for the experience you don’t have. Rather than saying, “I know I don’t have any direct experience with employee training…” write something like, “Having worked in a dynamic business development environment for the past four years, I’m excited about the opportunity to leverage my personal experience in a sales enablement role.”

5. Bring it all together.

Think of the final lines of your cover letter as the closing argument. You’ve spent the preceding paragraphs making a case for why you deserve an interview, so use your closing sentences to tie everything together.

And be sure to highlight what you can do for the company, not the other way around. So while you may be genuinely thrilled about the idea of learning all there is to know about digital advertising, now isn’t the time to mention it. Instead, say, “I look forward to discussing how my marketing and public relations expertise might benefit the digital advertising team!”

Sample career change cover letters

Here’s what this advice might look like, depending on where you are in your career and how much experience you have.

Sample career change cover letter for an early career professional

Dear Ms. Alice Chen,

Over the past few months, I’ve volunteered to represent my company at local college recruiting events, and I had no idea how much fun job fairs could be. As I meet with eager students, collect resumes, and chat with soon-to-be graduates about business development opportunities at Sunny Sales Inc., I often find myself thinking, I wish this were my full-time job. So you can imagine how excited I was when I discovered the university recruiting coordinator opportunity with Cloud Tech!

After completing a degree in business administration, I decided to put my outgoing personality and laser-focused organizational skills to work as a business development specialist for Sunny Sales Inc. Over the past two years, I’ve sharpened my communication skills in client meetings, fine-tuned my presentation experience, and sourced more than 300 warm leads. Working in sales has given me an invaluable foundation, and now I’m ready to move from business development to recruiting.

I’m energized by the prospect of applying my interpersonal skills and sales experience to the university recruiting coordinator opportunity with Cloud Tech. I think my enthusiasm for recruiting and ability to learn on the fly will serve me well in this role. I’ve outlined how my skills might fit with your specific needs below:

  • Applicant outreach: As a business development specialist, I’m comfortable seeking out new opportunities, making cold calls, and selling potential clients on the advantages of Sunny Sales software.
  • Interviews: I make an average of 50 phone calls a day, meet with at least five clients a week, and am at my happiest when I get to interact with a lot of different personalities. I’ve also gotten to participate in 10 interviews as part of a sales panel, resulting in two new hires for our organization.
  • Application management: I track my 1,500+ business development contacts as well as activities, pipeline, and 30+ active opportunities in a customer resource management system. As an organized, tech-savvy professional, I think I’d be able to master an applicant tracking system in no time.

I’d love to learn more about your university recruiting strategy for the coming year and to discuss how my experience and recruiting exposure might benefit the Cloud Tech team. Please let me know if there’s any additional information I can provide, and thank you so much for your consideration.

Warmly,

Donovan

Sample career change cover letter for a mid-career professional

Dear Toby,

After you’ve helped a client navigate a tricky IRS audit or file taxes for their new small business venture, you start to feel like you can handle anything a customer might throw at you.

I know I do. In my 15 years as a personal tax accountant, I’ve helped people through some of the most stressful and sensitive financial undertakings imaginable. Doing this with the right balance of empathy and pragmatism can be tricky, but it feels great when I get it right.

I’ve come to realize that working with people, helping them understand complicated or frustrating concepts, and serving as a client advocate are some of the things I love to do most. Getting to use these skills through my accounting practice has been very rewarding, but now I’m ready for a new chapter and am excited about the opportunity to focus exclusively on customer relations as a client services specialist.

Diamond Design has a stellar reputation when it comes to customer service, and I’d be thrilled to join a team that shares my passion for helping others. Here’s a brief overview of how I believe my experience would translate into a client services role.

  • Identifying client goals: Understanding customer needs is an essential element of my current role. Over the past few years, I’ve fine-tuned my approach, and have been recognized for my ability to create open dialogue by asking thoughtful questions and soliciting feedback.
  • Taking a customer-first approach: As a tax specialist, I approach every account with a solution-focused mindset. This had yielded a 95%+ customer satisfaction rating for the past six years.
  • Developing lasting relationships: My commitment to delivering an exceptional customer experience has yielded a 75% client retention rate. More than half of my clients have worked with me for five years or longer.

I’d be eager to learn more about Diamond Design’s client service goals and discuss how my background might serve to enhance the customer experience further.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to speaking soon.

Sincerely,

Barbara

Bonus tips for writing a career change cover letter

Here are a few more tips to ensure your career change cover letter does the trick:

  • Address your cover letter to the right person or people. Do some research to try to find out the name of the hiring manager. But always avoid “To Whom It May Concern.”
  • Tailor your career change cover letter for each position. Don’t just swap in the position title and company name from your last application. All of the content of your cover letter should show why you’re qualified for this job specifically.
  • Keep it to one page or less. Don’t get too caught up in explaining every detail of your choice to change careers or your past jobs until this point. Just tell the hiring manager enough to know they want to invite you for an interview and learn more.
  • Edit! Always reread your cover letter before you send it to check for any errors. If you have time, you can ask someone else to look it over with fresh eyes as well.

As you draft your cover letter, you’ll want to make sure that it emphasizes your unique talents, transferable skills, and passion for this new field. Spelling this out for prospective employers will help them piece together your qualifications—and up your chances of moving forward in the process.

Regina Borsellino contributed writing, reporting, and/or advice to this article.

Updated 6/13/2022