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Advice / Career Paths / Career Change

How I Successfully Landed a Job in a Totally Unrelated Field

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After finishing my BA in Utah, I jumped into a master’s program in Iowa that would allow me to teach college-level writing courses and learn from some of the greatest scholars in my field. And now I work in marketing.

You can insert that record scratch here.

But it’s true. Despite going to school (a lot of school!) for one thing, I decided that I no longer wanted to do that for the rest of my life. And now I know that’s completely normal—even though I didn’t feel that way at the time.

As it turns out, a lot of people who hear my story tell me that they also want to change careers, but aren’t sure how to start—especially if they’ve pursued one field or industry for a long time.

Well, I successfully did it and I’m here to share how you can do it, too.

1. Commit to Making the Change

I made the leap—the scary “WTF am I doing?!” leap—and packed up my life studying for a doctorate in Texas to move in with family in Nevada as I applied for unrelated jobs. On one hand, I was thrilled beyond all measure to push pause on my doctoral program, and on the other, I was scared out of my mind. I’d always had the “next steps” in my life planned out, and moving back in with my family at age 26 wasn’t on my agenda.

So, yes, it may mean taking classes at night to improve your skill set, or moving back in with your parents, or going on coffee meetings when you’d rather be watching TV—but if you’re serious about making a change, you have to be willing to take that leap and commit to making a change.

2. Determine Your Transferable Skills

My resume felt packed with academia—and I needed to find a way to capitalize on that. I couldn’t hide from my higher education experiences, nor should I. But, how could I make it clear to people outside academia that they should give me a chance?

Well, I went through my experiences thus far and made the following list of all my transferable skills and experiences—skills are good for your resume, and experiences are great for the cover letter.

Graduate Student

My four years in graduate school taught me how to conduct intensive research, which is beneficial in just about any career. Further, as a grad student, I was expected to speak at national conferences within my field of study. I often represented my university at these functions, and I learned while applying for jobs—particularly PR jobs—that companies almost always mention the need for someone to represent a brand in public settings.

What’s Transferable?

Conducting research, public speaking, representing a brand in public settings

College Instructor

As a teacher, I had to adapt my message to meet the needs of my students’ many different learning styles. Further, I gained some management experience by leading and facilitating my classroom. And I’ve taught students at large public universities, small, private universities, religiously affiliated universities, and community colleges—which helped me adapt any messaging based on the audience I’m speaking to.

What’s Transferable?

Managing people, working with people who have different learning styles, teaching new concepts and ideas, creating presentations for audiences unfamiliar with the topic, mentoring others, (more) public speaking

Gubernatorial Campaign Fellow

As a campaign fellow for a race that gained national attention, I did everything from making phone calls to encourage residents in the area to vote to planning neighborhood canvassing events to training volunteers to leading large phone bank events. The event planning, leadership skills, and general ability to mediate and keep calm in insanely stressful situations are skills I can use (and have used) anywhere.

These are just a few examples, but you get the idea. For each position you apply to, it’s helpful to identify all of the roles you’ve had along with the skills you learned in those roles, and how those skills would be effectively utilized in the position you’re applying for. Lead a student group? That’s management experience. Work in retail? That’s sales experience.

It’s also smart to look for a thread within all of your school, work, and volunteer experiences. I noticed right away that building relationships with people was something that was evident in all of my roles—so it was easy to sell myself for client-facing roles.

What’s Transferable?

Doing research, public speaking, representing a brand in public settings, conducting recruitment, exercising leadership, planning events, organizing, training entry-level employees, increasing audience engagement, developing a brand

3. Tailor Your Resume

I craved professional industry experience that aligned more with my BA and MA coursework, so I looked at careers in PR and marketing, copywriting, and social media. I even branched out and tried applying for recruiting and HR roles.

After creating a resume with everything I’ve ever completed in my adult life, I saved that resume as a master template and set it aside. I know I’ll never send that bulky resume out, but having a comprehensive list of my jobs, awards, conference presentations, and everything else means I can pull from what I need to for each job I apply for to create a custom resume for each one. (Translation: No, you really shouldn’t use the same resume for everything you apply for. Tailor everything.)

Yes, this is a real screenshot of my tailored resumes and cover letters.

4. Make Your Transferable Skills Obvious in Your Cover Letter

My experience as a rhetoric graduate student and college writing instructor trained me well in audience analysis and constructing arguments. (And let me tell you, both your resume and cover letter should be arguments—compelling cases as to why you’re worth consideration.) So, I used the main requirements listed in each job description and placed them right in the body of that corresponding cover letter.

When you come from a different industry than the one you’re trying to enter, you need to make it explicitly clear how you are capable of doing the job you’re applying for. Even the most seemingly opposite industries have connections if you look for them.

After all my hard work tailoring my resume and cover letter for one particular position, two Skype interviews, an in-person interview, and another Skype interview with other team members, I was offered a job as a Marketing Assistant. (Hooray!) It took a lot of effort and creative thinking, but it was definitely worth it. And if I can go from a student to a marketing assistant, I know you can make your career change, too!