April 29th, 2009 | 6:00 am

Ask-A-Recruiter: The Language of Career Change

filed under Ask A Recruiter

istock_000005168521xsmall1.jpgContributed by Caroline Ceniza-Levine of SixFigureStart

As my last 15 years of experience has been specialized (contract negotiations, mortgage loans, and asset and mortgage backed securities), how do you successfully convey that your past experience and skills set is transferable to a new industry, such as health care?

How to translate the details is the crux of the career changer’s mission. You have worked in an area with a specific set of protocols and a unique language, and you now need to position this in a way that someone else accustomed to a different set of protocols and a different language will understand. Your ability to do this determines if you will be able to change careers and at what salary and title.

Start with the basic word translation. We all have seen the funny ways big companies get into trouble when they market outside their home country and get the ad slogan translated wrong. So we realize that translating is more than just getting the right words. However, it’s a good start, so go line by line in your resume and cover letter and networking pitch and pull out any words or phrases that specifically reference your initial area, and replace them with words or phrases that reference the new area or are at least generic. So in the above example, mortgage loans become transactions.

Capture the essence, not the protocols. You can’t wordsmith everything of course, and you don’t want to omit that you securitized financial products if that was a big part of your job. But many would-be career changers drown their new prospects in very technical descriptions of their work environments and responsibilities, instead of highlighting what they achieved and what they did functionally in a way that the new prospect can appreciate. I am currently coaching a reporter transitioning to PR. She needs to highlight her media experience generally, not reporting specifically because PR people relate to media not reporting. She needs to talk about researching, developing and promoting stories and profiles because that is the essence of what she did, even if her colleagues would say she is covering beats.

Actively make the leap. Don’t make the prospective employer have to translate at all. After you tell them about your work with mortgages, give a specific example of what you could do in a hospital or insurance setting. Use their language, their protocols as you detail what you might bring to the table. You will change before their eyes from a mortgage person to a healthcare person. You will seem like their peer, and they will then be comfortable and excited to hire you. When you don’t make the effort to translate the details for the new sector you are targeting, you are effectively asking prospective employers to take you on your word. If all they see in your resume and pitch and dialogue is wedded to your old career, you are not giving them any tangible proof that you have changed. Think of the old boyfriend with past behavior that you no longer want who says, “Trust me, I can change.” Would you take him? Would you hire you?

Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart (www.sixfigurestart.com), a career coaching firm comprised exclusively of former Fortune 500 recruiters. Prior to launching SixFigureStart, Caroline recruited for Accenture, Booz Allen, Citigroup, Disney, Time Inc, and others. Email me at [email protected] and ask how you can attend a free SixFigureStart group coaching teleclass.

2 comments

  1. Claire

    If your desired career change is more drastic, for example from being an attorney to a designer or writer, what suggestions do you have for not dropping completely to the bottom of the totem pole?

    Thanks for the great article!

  2. Ask-A-Recruiter: The Language of Career Change « Sixfigurestart’s Weblog