4 Ways to Explain a Career Change in an Interview — According to a Career Coach

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Lee Beaser50
April 21, 2024 at 12:15PM UTC

There are many reasons you might be making a career change: better pay, lousy boss, boredom in your prior job or field, pursuing a passion, and the list goes on. However, in an interview situation, you don’t necessarily want to blurt out something like, “the reason I’m changing career fields is that I want to make more money.”

How do you explain a career change in a positive, constructive way? Read on to learn four ways to explain a career or job change in an interview:

1. Be honest, without being too honest.

Let’s say for example that you are applying for a job mostly because of the benefits (i.e., better pay, work-from-home opportunity, etc.). First of all, if you are only applying for a job just because of the perks, I would suggest taking some time to make sure the position is also a good match for you in terms of your strengths and interests. Short-term, this job may work, but if you hate what you’re doing you might not survive long-term.

Okay, getting back to the interview. If you are asked why you’re changing career fields, you could say “I applied for this job because, let’s face it, the benefits are amazing!” However, that’s probably not the answer that is going to land you the job. 

Here’s another way of responding: “I realize this position is quite different from previous roles I’ve had. What drew me to this job is the fact that it will allow me to interact a lot with customers. I love helping people!”

If you have been laid off and you’re looking to get into a new field, you can say something brief about your layoff and then focus the conversation on your strengths and why you’re excited to pivot into your targeted field. 

2. Emphasize your transferable skills. 

If you’re making a big career change, for example switching from teaching to corporate training, you can highlight transferable skillsets or skills that are needed in all industries. 

Here’s a sample response: “While I don’t yet have corporate training experience, I do have extensive experience with public speaking and using different presentation modalities to teach diverse populations. These skills are necessary to successfully train corporate executives from a wide variety of backgrounds.”

Remember, you don’t have to meet all the qualifications in the job posting. As long as you possess some or most of the skills and experience the employer is seeking, you can provide examples of how your transferable skills and knowledge can fill in the gaps.

If you get asked about a specific skill or experience in the interview that you don’t have, never lie. This will come back to bite you. You can say something like “while I don’t have experience with ABC skills, I’m a fast learner. In my prior role at XYZ company, I got 100% up to speed on a new internal communication tool within two days.”

3. Always focus on the positive.

Regardless of how much your prior boss sucked, the company culture was toxic, and you were underpaid and undervalued, if you say any of this in your interview it will only reflect negatively on you. 

Frame the situation in a positive light and focus on what you learned. For example, “I realized that XYZ company wasn’t a fit for me long-term. I’m looking for an organization where I can use my biggest strengths of creativity and leadership to help solve complex technical problems. I’m confident I can use these skills to help your organization reach its goals.” 

4. Provide proof of your awesomeness.  

If you are passionate about breaking into a creative field like graphic design or journalism but you don’t have any concrete experience, it’s time to start building your portfolio. Collect samples of your writing or design experience and start building a hard copy and/or digital portfolio that you can take along to an interview to demonstrate your enthusiasm and skills. 

You can also take courses (online courses count too) or get a certification in your targeted field to strengthen your skills. This type of continuing education is also a great way to show an employer how productive you’ve been while job searching. 

There are many ways to put a positive spin on your career change in an interview. The key is being prepared. Regardless of your motivation to change careers, it’s important to take time to create a positive narrative around your change or pivot and also to provide proof of your ability to be successful in your targeted field.  

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This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.
Lee Cristina Beaser is a career coach and founder of The Career Counter, where she empowers women to find more fulfillment and joy in their careers. Need help preparing for an upcoming interview or with taking the next step in your career? Check out The Career Counter’s interview and career coaching services: https://thecareercounter.com/career-coaching-interview-prep-services/.

What's your no. 1 piece of advice for explaining career changes in an interview? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!

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