23 May, 2022

The Career Shift Resume: Best Resume Format For Changing Careers

Looking for resume examples for a changing career? You’re in the right place. In this guide, we’ll cover everything about writing a career shift resume, from choosing the best format to expertly organizing each section so you can show potential employers that you’re a compelling and qualified candidate.

Table of Contents

Introduction to the Career Shift Resume

In movies, career changes are quick, easy, and usually set to a snappy musical montage. In real life? Not so much.

Not only will you have to work hard to develop the appropriate skills for your new career, but you’ll also have to give your resume a total makeover. Of course, that leads to an important question: what is the best way to format your resume for a career shift?

The Best Resume Format for Changing Careers

What’s the best resume format for a career change? It’s a simple question, but alas, there’s not one simple answer.

The best resume template for a job will depend on you, your experience, and the field you’re coming from and the one you’re trying to enter. You’ll need to evaluate your past experience, knowledge, and skills, then figure out how to best frame them to help sell yourself. Ultimately, you need to organize and format your resume to demonstrate to a potential employer that you’re totally prepared to make this transition.

The Three Main Resumes for Career Shift

There are three main resume types: the chronological resume, functional resume, and combination resume.

As a general rule, the chronological resume format is the best resume template for professionals. However, a career shift is one of the few extenuating circumstances where either the functional or combination resume format may be most appropriate. These resume formats allow you to showcase skills that relate to your new career path and demonstrate that you are a strong candidate for the job.

Before going any further, let’s take a moment to talk about the differences between the resume types and when each one is most appropriate for a career change:

The Chronological Resume Format For Career Shifts

The chronological (sometimes called the reverse chronological) resume format focuses on your work experience. It’s listed in reverse order, with the most recent job first and the oldest last. Skills are of secondary emphasis, and are usually listed below work experience.

  • What if the new job is in a traditional or conservative industry?
    The chronological resume format is the most standard resume format. If you’re entering a traditional or conservative industry such as law or finance, the chronological resume is the best choice. This will likely be the resume format that hiring professionals expect to see within these industries.
  • How can you show that your work experience transfers well?
    If you are changing industries or jobs, it’s possible that the work experience you have gained will transfer well to a job in a new industry. For example, if you’ve been working in sales and want to transition to marketing, your experience will be quite relevant. In this case, the chronological resume format is the best choice.
  • What to do if you have commensurate experience?
    If you are shifting into an industry that differs from your current or past workplaces, it’s possible that your non-work experience (perhaps gained through volunteering, research, or internships) may align with your potential new job. In this case, include these experiences in a chronological resume.

The Functional Resume Format For Career Shifts

The functional (or skill-based) resume format focuses on skills, rather than work experience.

  • What if your work experience isn’t relevant?
    Unless you’re switching to a conservative industry where the chronological resume is standard, showcasing irrelevant work experience is not necessary and will not benefit you. The functional resume format allows you to place a greater emphasis on your transferable skills, which will paint you in a more positive light to potential employers.
  • What if the job requires specific skill sets?
    Fields which require very specific skill sets actually place preference on skills over work experience. For instance, in the IT world, certain computer skills are more valuable than work experience. In this case, an employer is more likely to be impressed with your technical acumen rather than your unrelated employment history.

The Combination Resume Format For Career Shifts

The combination (or hybrid) resume format puts an equal focus on skills and experience. As the name implies, it includes elements of both the chronological and functional resume formats.

The combination format is appropriate in similar circumstances to the functional resume format, specifically when you’d like to highlight skills but still include some of your work experience.

Work experience that doesn’t relate directly to the job being offered may still be worth mentioning on your resume. Your experience can show a potential employer that you possess qualities like a great work ethic, leadership ability, and reliability. These qualities will transfer well to any new position.

Functional Versus Combination Resume Formats for Career Shifts

Confused about the difference between the functional and combination resume format for a career shift resume? No worries. While the differences are subtle, we’ve outlined them below:

✓ Functional
The functional resume puts most of its emphasis on skills, and little or no emphasis on work experience.
✓ Combination
The combination resume puts some emphasis on skills, and some emphasis on work experience.

The functional resume format is likely a better choice if your work experience is unrelated to your new field. However, if you have some work experience that may transfer well or you think will demonstrate your work ethic and qualities in a positive light, the combination resume is a better choice.

The Best Resume Format for Changing Careers: Review

A career change does not always require the same resume format. The best format will depend on your unique circumstances, as well as your experience and the industry you’re entering.

The chronological resume is the most traditional type of resume. It is the best fit for a career change resume if the new role is in a conservative or traditional industry.

A career shift is one of the instances in which a less common resume format, such as the functional resume or combination resume format, may be more appropriate. Evaluate your experience and skills to determine which is a better fit.

Skills and Experience for a Career Shift Resume

If you’re embarking on a career shift, it’s important to prove to potential employers that you have the skills needed to succeed.

Regardless of which format you choose, it is important to make the skills section shine on a career shift resume. After all, this section shows your strengths and capabilities, and lets a potential employer know why you’re the best fit for the position.

What kind of skills should you include on a career shift resume?

What Are Soft Skills vs Hard Skills?

There are two types of skills that are included on a resume: soft skills and hard skills. What’s the difference?

  • Soft skills are more general, and could be applied to a variety of different jobs. These include communication skills, time management skills, and problem solving abilities.
Other Soft Skills Examples
  • Multitasking
  • Time management
  • Efficiency
  • Attention to detail
  • Interpersonal communication skills
  • Hard skills relate very specifically to the job being offered. Hard skills are often technical skills, such as proficiency in a programming language, computer software, tools, machinery, or specific process used on the job.
Other Hard Skills Example
  • Language proficiency
  • Certification in a computer
    programming language
  • Proficiency in using software
    or digital platforms
  • SEO
  • Database management
  • Copywriting

Soft Skills for a Career Shift Resume

When choosing which skills to add to your career shift resume, consider starting with soft skills as they tend to be more transferable.

First, take the time to read the job listing carefully and review the specific skills requested by the employer. Even without work experience in a new field, you may already possess several of the required soft skills. Soft skills are abilities that are not unique to any specific job and are the traits that make you a good employee and a good leader.

Below are some examples of sought-after soft skills that can be applied to a variety of different roles in different industries:

  • Communication skills:
    Chances are pretty good that communication skills are going to be helpful in any type of job. So if you write effective letters or emails or have a talent for communicating ideas clearly, mention these skills on your resume.
  • Interpersonal skills:
    Customer service and people skills are an asset in a variety of different roles and fields. If you are consistently able to get along with clients or customers, resolve conflicts, and collaborate well, point it out on your resume.
  • Problem solving abilities:
    Every role, field, and industry has problems that arise; and these problems require solutions. If you’re known for your ability to develop creative solutions, call it out on your resume.
  • Time management: Productivity and organizational skills, such as the ability to meet deadlines and effectively manage your time, are valuable to employers in a variety of fields. If you have them, mention them on your resume.

Hard Skills for a Career Shift Resume

In the case of a career shift, it’s vital to convey to a potential employer that–even without specific experience in the field–you possess skills that make you an asset. Hard skills are teachable and measurable abilities and can be acquired through training, books, online courses, or on the job.

Once again, take the time to carefully read the job listing to review the specific skills requested by the employer. Evaluate the hard skills requested and tailor your resume to show your most relevant strengths.

Below are some examples of hard skills that might be appropriate in a variety of different industries:

  • Cloud computing and programs:
    Since so much business is conducted virtually these days, cloud computing is helpful in many roles.
  • Foreign language fluency:
    In a global marketplace, fluency in multiple languages is an asset in many roles.
  • Hardware or software skills:
    Specific hardware may be considered standard in your new chosen field. Knowledge of specific computer programs is also highly desirable.
  • Machine operation:
    Commercial licensing, ability to operate machinery or specialized tools, and other technical and mechanical skills can be helpful in many fields.
  • SEO and social media:
    Search engine optimization has become an integral part of business marketing. Social media expertise can also be helpful in many roles.
  • Certifications:
    If you have gained certification in a specific skill or area of knowledge, note it on your resume.

Tips for Choosing Skills for a Career Shift Resume

Only choose skills that are relevant.
While a variety of hard skills can be impressive, if they do not transfer to the position you’re applying for, it may be better to leave them off. There is no point in including skills that are not related to the targeted job. It only confuses and frustrates the hiring professional.

Only list skills that you actually have.
Honesty is the best policy. If you do not possess specific skills requested in the job listing, leave them off your resume.

Look beyond just work experience.
Remember: you may have gained skills through experiences other than jobs. Consider skills that you’ve developed through side gigs, hobbies, community activities, or your personal interests.

For example, if you’re applying to a media company and you maintain a personal blog, chances are you may have developed writing, SEO, and social media skills that could be relevant to the position being offered.

Skills and Experience for a Career Shift Resume: Review

Review the job listing to see what skills are required for the position, and only list your relevant skills.

There are two types of skills to list on your resume: soft skills and hard skills.

Not all skills are acquired through work experience. Consider skills you may have gained from experiences other than jobs, such as side gigs, hobbies, or community activities.

Chronological Resume Format for Changing Careers

If you were to ask most people to conjure up an image of a classic resume, it would be the reverse chronological resume. This classic resume format focuses on work experience, with skills and education listed below.

Often, the chronological resume is the preferred format for hiring professionals. Why? It offers them an easy to read, informative overview of who you are and what you have been doing in your career.

Without experience in a particular field, the chronological resume format is often still the best choice, simply because it is what most hiring professionals expect to see.

How Should You Format a Chronological Resume for a Career Shift?

If you have determined that the chronological resume format is the best choice for your career shift, great.The good news is that you do not have to completely rewrite your resume. It’s simply a matter of tailoring and formatting your resume so that you can show a potential employer that you have related skills and experience, and you are prepared to shift gears into a new industry.

Traditional reverse chronological resume sections:

  • Basic information:
    Front and center, place the necessary info: your name, professional title, and contact information.
  • Summary statement:
    Write a short mission statement summing up who you are professionally and what you can offer in the targeted role.
  • Work experience:
    The most expansive and important part of the chronological resume. This section includes your past employers: company name, job title, dates, and a brief summary of your job role, including highlights and achievements.
  • Skills:
    Highlight the skills you possess that are relevant to the job being offered. Look for both soft and hard skills that transfer from your former career into your new one.
  • Education:
    A list of schools you attended, including the name of the institution, the level of degree attained, and graduation date. Unless you didn’t attend college, it’s not necessary to list high school education.
  • Additional sections:
    These sections include any information that helps sell you as the perfect applicant and has not already been covered in the resume, including certifications, volunteer work, professional organizations, or awards.

However, with a career shift resume you may consider playing with the organization a bit. Here are two intelligent approaches to formatting a chronological resume for a career shift:

  • Create a dedicated skills section.
    Your work experience may not translate directly to the new position. So, you may want to create a dedicated skills section to highlight your developed skills and show the potential employer what you have to offer.
  • Combine skills with work experience.
    Traditionally, the chronological resume format lists work experience and skills in separate sections. However, to give more emphasis to your skills is to format your resume to include them under each job listing. This allows you to highlight transferable skills that may be helpful in the new position.

Functional or Combination Resume Format for Career Change

True: the chronological resume is generally the format that hiring professionals will expect to see. However, a career shift is one of the exceptional circumstances where a functional or combination resume may in fact be more appropriate.

The reason? Simply put, a strong emphasis on work experience that does not relate to the new job might not be the best way to showcase your strengths.

But which should you choose: the functional or combination resume format?

Since the functional resume format puts little to no emphasis on work experience, it doesn’t necessarily show the employer that you have been employed in the past. For this reason, this resume format is more appropriate when you have a lack of work history: say, when you’re embarking on a career after a very long gap, or when you are first approaching the workforce after college.

If you do have work experience, whether related or unrelated to the new field, the combination resume format is the better choice for you. It allows you to share your prior work experience, thus proving that you have been gainfully employed and are a reliable employee. It also allows you to put greater emphasis on your skills, so you can show an employer that you’re prepared for a career shift.

Since a career shift usually involves prior work experience in a different field, we will focus on the combination resume format in this section.

How Should You Format a Combination Resume for a Career Shift?

You will need to write a new resume for a career shift. The good news is that a combination resume format will require a lot of the same information as your old resume, so it’s mostly a matter of reorganizing and reformatting.

What you’ll need to include on a combination resume format for a career shift:

  • Basic information:
    No matter what resume type you use, this section should be front and center, and includes your name, professional title, and contact information.
  • Summary statement:
    This is a capsule sales pitch for your resume, where you briefly sum up who you are professionally and how you can immediate value in the targeted job.
  • Skills:
    These take up a substantial portion of a combination resume, showing developed skills that will help you excel at the job being offered.
  • Work experience:
    This section still appears on the combination resume format, but with roughly equal emphasis to the skills section. Include an entry for each past employer: company name, job title, dates, and a description of your responsibilities and achievements.
  • Education:
    Include the school’s name, the highest level of degree attained, and graduation date. High school education is unnecessary unless you did not attend college.
  • Additional sections:
    Personalize your resume by adding additional information that presents your many winning qualities and qualifications, such as certifications, professional organizations, publications, or volunteer experience.

With a career shift resume, consider making the following tweaks to really make your combination resume shine:

  • Organize skills by theme.
    Skills are a vital part of this resume format, so make sure that they are prominent. Organize your skills by theme under separate sub-headings to bring attention to areas where you shine. For example? Some headings might include “Writing and Communication” or “Computer Expertise.”
  • Add additional skills.
    Put your main focus on skills specific to the job being offered by adding an additional skills section (“Areas of Expertise”) to highlight soft skills from previous jobs that would transfer well to the new position.
  • Carefully format the work experience section.
    Your work experience might not show direct experience in the industry or field you wish to enter; however, you can tailor your resume to align with the job you are targeting. Edit your descriptions to include skills or keywords that transfer well to the new position for the greatest impact.

Improving and Polishing Your Career Shift Resume

Your resume is like your own personal “vote for me” sign posted in a potential employer’s yard before election day. You really want to make sure that you look good! In the case of a career shift resume, one of the ways to make yourself stand out is by maximizing your capabilities.

Here’s some specific advice to help you rewrite and highlight specific sections of your resume to help nab you the job offer:

Do You Need a Resume Summary Statement?

The summary statement is like a mini-me to the rest of the resume, offering a short summary of what the reader can expect. It’s a 2-5 sentence that appears toward the top of your resume, below your name and contact info.

It’s not necessary to address the career shift in your summary statement; you’ll do that in your cover letter. Rather, use the summary statement to highlight skills and experiences that illustrate your fitness for the role being offered. Use specific keywords from the job posting to show your qualifications for the job role in question.

What’s the Best Way to Include Education?

The education section can be used to your advantage on a career shift resume, helping to show that you’ve spent time and effort preparing for the world of employment.

Focus on two specific areas in the education section to maximize its impact: placement and wording.

Placement: Generally, the education section will appear either before or after the experience section. If your education reflects studies that are relevant, consider listing it more prominently (above the Experience section). This can help explain your career shift while also offering proof of your readiness in the new field.

Wording: In the education section, generally list the following information:

Degree or degrees received
Course of study (major and minor)
Name and location of the establishment
Date of graduation
Highlights from your academic career.

Education Information Example
Bachelor in Business Management
Minor in Marketing
North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC
May 2018
  • Summa Cum Laude

Much of the education section is factual, of course. But when writing about highlights from your academic career, focus on coursework and achievements that relate to the job being offered.

Tip: If you have any continuing education courses or experience related to the job being offered, include them as well. Format in the same way, including the course title, organization, and dates.

Where Should You Put Certifications?

Certifications can help up the ante on your resume, helping you present yourself as a desirable candidate to potential employers.

Typically, certifications can be added to your education section. You would then name the section something like “Education and Certificates” or “Education, Training, and Certificates.” If you have a long list of certifications and/or training, you can create an additional certifications section, positioned below work experience, skills, and education.

Do not include certifications for the heck of it: curate your list to include certifications that are relevant to the new career, since they can help indicate that you’re ready for the job.

Tip: to bring more emphasis to a notable certification, make a note of it in the resume summary statement.

Here’s the information you’ll need to include when listing certifications:

Date received
Date expiring (if applicable)

Certifications Information Example
Therapeutic Sport Massage Training
North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC
August 2015
  • Thru – Aug 2020

Writing a Career Shift Cover Letter

Don’t underestimate the power of a great cover letter. During a career transition, your cover letter is even more important than usual. It is often the first impression that a potential employer will have of you.

The cover letter gives you a chance to explain your career shift: what prompted your choice to change fields, what you have to offer, and how you are prepared to bring immediate value to your new industry.

What to Include in a Career Shift Cover Letter

The following are points to discuss in your career shift cover letter:

  • The reason for the career shift.
    Yes, indeed: explain why you are making this career transition. State your motivation. Explain what proactive steps you have taken to prepare for the new career.
  • Your commitment.
    The unspoken question that many hiring managers will have with career shifts is whether or not you will shift careers again soon. After all, a company does not want to waste time on a hire who might not last. Convey that your career shift is something you are pursuing long term–not on a whim.
  • Why you’re a good fit.
    Emphasize the skills, experience, and interest/passion you have for the new career you want to embark on, and why you are a great fit for the job being offered.
  • Specific keywords.
    Carefully read the job description before composing your cover letter. Show that you understand the position being offered and are taking it seriously by using specific phrases or keywords from the listing. Doing so also helps your cover letter to bypass automated Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) that may be in use.

What to Remember in a Career Shift

Changing career paths is exciting, but has its fair share of challenges. To make sure that you are taken seriously as a crossover candidate, it’s important to properly format your resume. Highlight your strengths, skills, and preparedness for the position.

If you take the time to choose the right resume format, ensure correct organization, include relevant details, and optimize with specific keywords and phrases from the job listing, you will show potential employers that you can offer immediate value in your new chosen field.

About The Author

Ashley Wehnes
Ashley Wehnes

Established resume writer, HR expert, and business owner with over 10 years of success, providing tools and resources to clients during the often-tedious job search. With deep knowledge of a wide range of industries and markets, Ashley provides best-in-class service and sound advice to job seekers and professionals in pursuit of their career goals. As an active member of the National Resume Writers’ Association (NRWA) and partner, writer, and consultant for leading companies, including Indeed, ZipRecruiter, and Monster, Ashley is recognized for continually delivering award-winning documents in alignment with today’s industry standards.

Jessie Oleson Moore
Jessie Oleson Moore

Jessie Oleson Moore is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer / ghostwriter and artist. As a writer, she has written extensively on finance, day trading, personal growth, and career development and has extensive experience producing in-depth, research-based articles and guides. In addition, she is an accomplished illustrator and author who has appeared on The Today Show and been featured in Publisher's Weekly. In her free time, she’s an avid traveler, Ashtanga yoga practitioner, and unicorn enthusiast.