January 8, 2021, by Jackie Thompson
Advice for Mature Students Changing Career Direction
By Christian Jameson-Warren, Education Employability Projects Officer
Many people decide to change career direction at some point in their lives for a variety of reasons. If you are currently studying with a view to gaining a qualification that will help you with your own career change, the following tips can help you with securing your first job in a new industry or sector.
1. Own your career story
Many students I’ve spoken to worry about their lack of industry experience, or that employers will have questions about their decision to change career direction. While there is something completely human about these worries – we don’t like exposing ourselves to rejection after all – it can be more beneficial to focus on your career ‘journey’ in more positive, empowering terms.
A simple step to do this is to create a narrative summarising your journey. The following template can help with this (add or amend as appropriate to you):
What I previously did was A. What I liked most about this was B. Therefore, what I want to do now is C.
Write this out and practise saying it until it feels natural and sounds confident. Chances are you’re making sacrifices to change career direction instead of being cautious and safe, and so emphasis your motivation for your new goal. This will help you feel more confident in yourself and when speaking to / applying to employers.
It’s also worth trying to remove words such as ‘only’ and ‘not much’ when describing your experience. Focus on what you have now and will have by the end of your studies.
2. Explain transferable skills in simple terms
Most job requirements are transferable between jobs, such as communication, organisation, working under pressure and so on.
When writing about transferable skills, spend time thinking about how these skills would be specifically used in your new job. This will help you identify where you’ve used these skills in a similar way previously.
My general rule-of-thumb with applications is to write things so clear that a 10-year-old can see how you meet the requirements in the person specification. So, if the job is asking for, say, excellent people skills, think about why they’re asking for these skills and don’t just write that you have excellent people skills, or share information or examples that aren’t directly relevant, focus and emphasis on how you’ve used your people skills in the same way.
A good technique I often to use with students is identify challenges you’ve experienced in your previous work and discuss your approach to how you overcame them. Chances are, the way you approached these challenges reflects how you like working, which in turn is closely related to your future career. Use this simple activity to help you identify relevant examples you can use.
3. Find others who have made the career change
There are bound to be lots of people who have entered the career you’re interested in with unconventional backgrounds. Some of these people might be willing to share their experiences of how they did with you, which can help you make the same transition quicker. While you may not be able to find someone, who has come from exactly the same background as you, there are still great lessons to be learned from others.
LinkedIn is great for finding and connecting with people. For example, go the University of Nottingham’s LinkedIn page, navigate to alumni and filter by people who graduated from your course or work for organisations you’re interested in. Research profiles until you find people who could help and send them a personalised connection request outlining how you came across their details and that you’d love to speak to them for a few minutes to hear their story.
4. Go the extra mile in applications
While recruitment processes are quite automated, there are still people making the decisions. When applying for a job, spend some time contacting the organisation to speak to someone about the vacancy. There is often contact information on the job vacancy or elsewhere on the company website. Try to arrange a phone call and ask a few more questions to really understand the aspirations and challenges for that department in more detail.
This will enable you to:
- make a good first impression before you’ve even applied, and
- make an application that stands out to others as you really understand the employer’s needs and can spend time outlining how your previous experience enables you to meet those needs – beyond what other applicants are doing.
If you want to talk to a careers adviser about your next, book an online appointment through MyCareer. If you need help with setting up your LinkedIn profile and using LinkedIn to connect with other professionals, visit our networking page.
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