3 Cover Letter Mistakes Career Changers Can’t Afford to Make, According to Recruiters

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Arguably the most important part of any career change is drafting a job application that angles your past experience, strengths and transferable skills as beneficial to future employers. While this may sound like a difficult task, it can be easy with the right game plan. We spoke with a variety of hiring professionals to make sure we devised a thorough game plan with several perspectives on what it takes to switch industries. 
Resoundingly, we heard that while the resume is important in any job search, cover letters are especially important to the career changer as their resumes may not hold the experience or technical skills necessary for a role. The cover letter allows the career changer to tell their story and sell their skills and experiences in a unique way. 

How to Write a Career Change Cover Letter

1. Research the company and role. 

Before writing your cover letter, be sure to research the company and role you're addressing. You're not only going to have to prove why you're a great fit for the role but that you're dedicated to learning and understanding this new role. Research is an important first step in this process. Try to gauge the company's culture and tone, what soft and hard skills are required by the role, what your responsibilities would be and what opportunities you'd have to contribute to the company's mission, and the general type of person the post is looking for. 

2. Catch their attention with your transferable skills. 

"In the first sentence of the cover letter, make a bold statement about a soft skill you have that the company can’t live without," Grey Idol, Co-founder of Payroll Funding, advocates. "Look beyond the job description to discover the best skill to promote. Ask yourself what the industry fears and how your current skillset mitigates it. The entire goal of the cover letter is to make a hiring manager think, hmm, this gal has something my company needs." 
You can cast the spotlight on your transferable skills with a quick opening statement about yourself and your skills, or a short narrative (like the sample below). 
"Try to avoid general statements about soft skills (e.g. leadership ability, communication skills, customer service, etc.)," Darrell Rosenstein, Founder of The Rosenstein Group, said. "These are things anyone can acquire. Show the hiring manager what gives you value comparable to or greater than a candidate with experience in the industry." 

3. Hype up your previous performance. 

Now, talk about how you've demonstrated each of these transferable skills in an impressive way in one of your past roles. This is the time to include the quantifiable ways your skills have made you a successful professional. The section should include any specific, numerical metrics you've achieved, teams or accounts you've managed, and any awards you've won. Remember, these achievements should indicate that you're a strong contender for this new role and tightly tie to its responsibilities and opportunities somehow. 

4. Bring it all together. 

Wrap it up with a snappy summary of the skills and experiences you've introduced and a quick statement about why they make you the right person for the role. Then, reiterate your interest in the company and role for a specific reason that indicates research, thank the reader, and end with a call to action, usually prompting the hiring manager to give you a call or send you an email if they're interested in interviewing you. 

Text Sample

Dear Ms. X, 

After managing a class of middle school students, you start to feel like you can handle anything. I know I do. In my 6 years as a middle school head teacher, I’ve learned to juggle intensive administrative and analytical tasks with coaching and mediation, all while performing for my rotating audience of 25 to 30 individuals an hour. 

I’ve come to realize that helping people understand complicated concepts — and serving as their advocate as they learn — are the parts of my work I love most. I’d like to follow this passion in a new way. Along with my rigorous time management, relationship management and analytical skills, my passion for helping others through instruction would make me an excellent addition to the Company XYZ client service team as a client services manager. 

As a teacher, I frequently weighed and reacted to the needs of not only students but also parents, administrators, and other teachers. This instilled multi-dimensional communication skills and resulted in me being named Teacher of the Year by both XYZ County Schools in 2018 and XYZ Middle School Parent-Teacher Association in 2019. Additionally, rigorous analysis of my students’ test scores — and reactivity to their learning needs — allowed me to boost my classroom’s average XYZ standardized test score by more than 15% from the beginning to the end of each year for my entire tenure. The state average is 12%.  

In summary, my experience as a middle school teacher has supplied me with the organizational skills, relational savvy, communication skills, and analytical ability to thrive in the client services manager role. I am excited at the opportunity to join a team with a stellar reputation for putting the customer first. I can be reached anytime via my cell phone at 555-555-5555. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to speaking with you.


Mistakes to Avoid 

What shouldn't you do? These three things. 

1. Making it about you instead of the company.

"Not focusing on the business or role that you’re applying for" is one of the top cover letter mistakes to avoid, according to Melissa Cadwallader MBA, PHR, who is an Austin-based HR leader at ZenBusiness
To avoid this faux pas, make sure every single line of your cover letter connects back to how you're going to strengthen the company or team you're hoping to join. Every single skill or experience you present should be followed with context on how it will help you to help them. It's that simple to write a strong cover letter. 

2. Lying or exaggerating. 

"If you are making the leap from one radically different field to another, you may be inclined to stretch the truth about your work and education background," Dana Case, Director of Operations at MyCorporation.com, cautions. However, it's never worth it to lie in a job application, she says. In fact, you can end up in a sticky situation, and most of the time, you won't be looked down upon for honestly trying to make a change. 
"Avoid [lying], especially since a quick LinkedIn or Google search can easily reveal the truth about the applicant. Instead, be honest about why you're making a career change," Case said.

3. Including too much detail about your past roles. 

Cadwallader also cautions against going into too much detail, especially about your past roles. Only speak to experiences that fostered transferable skills that could help you succeed in the job you're applying to. Additionally, be sure not to get too into the nitty-gritty when it comes to specific metrics or tasks you achieved, especially if you don't have room to place them into the context necessary to connect them with the next step in your career. 

This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

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