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How To Explain a Career Change in Your Cover Letter (With Examples)

05/22/2024
7 minutes

If you’re more comfortable writing code than writing about yourself, you might find cover letter requirements tedious or even intimidating. For job seekers who are switching careers though, a cover letter is the perfect opportunity to bridge the gap between your past roles and where you want to go.  

Even if you’re making a big career change, there are skills and lessons from your previous experience that will be a huge asset in future roles. As a career switcher, you likely have a lot of ground you could cover in the letter, but avoid the temptation to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. Give the most space to the most important takeaways — recruiters and hiring managers will likely skim longer letters anyways.  

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Curating your story and focusing on the commonalities between this opportunity and your previous experience will show that you understand the role and industry, and what you can bring to it. While cover letters aren’t always required for job applications (and some people even think they’re unnecessary), crafting a concise and focused letter is still a great exercise. Why you’re making a career change is bound to come up in interviews, so it’s good to be able to articulate your reasons for doing so confidently. Here are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind when writing your cover letter so you can stand out as a candidate. 

Do highlight: Transferrable technical skills 

If there’s any overlap in the technical skills you developed in previous roles and this opportunity, spell out those connections. “Highlight things from your previous career path that will be beneficial in your new career,” says Jean du Plessis, Senior Engineering Manager at Upbound

You might have taken an interest in technology while working in a different field, so you volunteered to set up the company website, for example. Perhaps you have some portfolio projects using some of the same languages or frameworks in the company’s tech stack. 

Example: Applying to a Business Intelligence Data Analyst position 

“As a Marketing Manager, I work with teammates across the marketing department and wider business to develop campaigns to reach new customers. My favorite part of the job is using data to report on campaign performance and refine marketing strategy, so I’m excited about the opportunity to make data analysis my full-time focus.”  

Don’t: Try to hide your gaps  

If you’re making a career change, there will naturally be areas where you lack experience. Highlighting your growth areas and enthusiasm to learn will create a far better impression than glossing over or attempting to disguise them. The same applies to technical interviews — being transparent you don’t know something and talking about how you’d figure it out is always better than hiding it. If you want to feel more confident that you meet the role’s requirements before you even go into the interview, you can use our job-readiness checker to analyze how your skills fit the job description.  

Many job seekers get discouraged when positions require years of experience just to apply. One way to overcome this experience gap is by having a strong portfolio of projects and talking about the languages or skills you’re currently studying.  

Remember that anyone applying for a junior role will be in the same position, and hiring managers expect there to be a ramp-up period for onboarding and training entry-level folks. You can present these hard skills gaps as opportunities for growth and call out the aspects of the role that excite you.  

Example: Applying for a Front-End Engineer position 

“One of the aspects of this role that appeals to me is building UIs leveraging React. I’ve taken several React courses and built my own projects using React (here’s a link to my portfolio project) and am excited about the opportunity to gain more experience using it in a professional setting and learning from my teammates.” 

Do highlight: Soft skills 

“Technical skills can be learned, but character attributes that you’ve already developed and have evidence for are a bonus,” says Jean. As a candidate making a career shift, it will benefit you most to focus your cover letter on mapping the soft skills you’ve already demonstrated to the new career you’re pursuing.  

Soft skills are highly transferable, even across industries. “If you were a Chef, for instance, you have experience with working under pressure,” says Jean. Having experience in different environments often means you have a fresh perspective to bring to the role. 

Example: Applying for a Support Engineer position 

“In my previous role in food service, I learned to work under pressure and meet the diverse needs of customers. I’m adept at coordinating with a team to manage multiple tasks at once and deliver orders on time, even during peak hours. My adaptability and problem-solving skills directly apply to critical situations that Support Engineers face, like escalations.” 

It can also be advantageous to have previous experience in other roles within the same industry or sector — even if you didn’t work for a “tech” company. Technical skills are needed in almost every industry today, and you can bring valuable context to a role if you have worked in the industry before. Codecademy learner Jacinta Hayward landed an interview for a cybersecurity role at a healthcare company because of her background working in the disability sector. 

Don’t: Undervalue your professional and lived experience 

Don’t downplay your experience in the workplace. Your experience and growth from problem solving, navigating situations of conflict, negotiating deliverables and due dates, and understanding customer needs are all valuable to potential employers. “You have an advantage in that you’re bringing more work and life experience to an entry-level role,” says Jean. “You have worked with people and learned the politics of business.”  

You might think that drawing these connections between your past and desired roles is too obvious or making a reach, but hiring managers are often more open to it than you might think. If someone is skimming your resume or LinkedIn profile quickly, they might not reach those conclusions themselves. Your cover letter is where you can add that color and context to your career journey.   

Example: Applying for a QA Tester position 

“As a gamer and early adopter of technology, I’ve always enjoyed beta testing new releases. I find it fun to identify bugs and glitches, and like collaborating with developers to share feedback and improve on the user experience. I believe my attention to detail and experience communicating with developers will be as asset as a QA Tester.” 

Do: Tailor your resume 

While your cover letter is a critical part of your application, especially if you’re making a career change, don’t neglect your resume. While there’s no perfect resume (don’t get hung up on whether it should be one or two pages, for example), you do want to prioritize the most relevant experience to the job you’re applying for. 

“Apply a weighting in terms of the amount of space on the page you give to the most important roles you’ve held,” says Lucy Jones, Headhunter and Director of the Executive Search firm Lawson Brooke. “Those could be the roles you held the longest, or had the greatest impact in, determined against the role to which you’re applying.” If there are common threads throughout your career path, like the types of customers the company served or professional skills you applied, give those the most prominence in your resume.  

“It sounds like a lot of hard work — and it is — but you would naturally have more than one resume to emphasize different aspects of your career,” says Lucy. You can read more about optimizing your resume and LinkedIn profile in our article about how to get a hiring manager’s attention without a degree

If you’re feeling really stuck, try asking Chat GPT to write the cover letter for you so you have a rough first draft to work with. You don’t want to submit an AI-generated cover letter as is, but having something more than a blank page can be helpful to overcome writer’s block. You can also browse Codecademy learner stories for more inspiration on how other career changers describe their career change journeys. 

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