How to Best Position Yourself to Get a Job in a New Field
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Over my years as a career advisor at the Graduate Center, I’ve worked with a number of students aspiring to reinvent themselves professionally—to find a new career in a field that is closer to their hearts and more suited to their interests. Many of these students come out of our various Master’s programs. After completing their degrees, these students, with little or no actual experience, then face the challenge of competing with more experienced candidates. It is a difficult challenge, but not impossible. Here are some steps you could take to make yourself more competitive and get your foot in the door of a new career.
If you just apply cold online and send in a resume without relevant experience, chances are it will be discarded by the hiring manager. To get around this obstacle, you need an internal recommendation. This is when someone from within the company/organization goes to the hiring manager and says: “I know a student from the CUNY Graduate Center who just finished a degree in _____. They don’t have the usual background of our hires, but I think they would be a good fit for us. Let’s give them an interview.”
In order to get such a recommendation, start with the people you know. Is anyone working in the field you are interested in? Reach out to them for a conversation. After you exhaust your own network, identify people who you don’t know, mostly using LinkedIn, and reach out to them. These might be alumni of your program, GC or CUNY alumni, alumni of your undergraduate school, or anyone who is doing something you would like to do, or working for a company you are interested in. Also, if you had an adjunct professor in your program, consider whether that person is currently working and might be a good contact for you.
The next step is to conduct an informational interview where you ask questions about the person’s career path, job, and the industry. I won’t go into all the intricacies of the informational interview here as there is plenty of information about it on this website, but the idea is to get insider information and make yourself known to people who could eventually refer or recommend you.
Join your Professional Association
This is related to networking. Professional associations help you find people to network with and even potential mentors. However, it’s much more. There are conferences, regional meetings, publications, industry information, and job boards. Here are a few examples of professional associations related to GC Master degree majors: (Note: The following are examples. I’m not endorsing each one because I don’t have personal experience with all of these organizations. You would need to do additional research.)
The Society for Applied Anthropology
The American Society of Criminology
The Cognitive Neuroscience Society
The Modern Language Association
The Association for Computational Linguistics
The American Association of Applied Linguistics
The American Historical Association
The National Association of Environmental Professionals
The American Statistical Association
The American Association of Political Consultants
The Association for Computers and Humanities
There are hundreds of LinkedIn groups around communities of interest. These are mainly online discussion groups where you can get information, guidance, and advice, and build connections. An added value of being a member of a group is that you can directly contact any other group member even if they aren’t in your network. Use the search bar on the LinkedIn homepage and recommended groups will appear. You can then check out the group, learn more about it, and put in a request to join. Then, you will be contacted by a group manager to check whether you meet their membership criteria.
Volunteer for an Internship
Having an internship would be a real plus for getting into a new career. You learn or practice new skills; you can network with people who could potentially help you; it looks good on your resume; and you might even get a return offer after the internship. Unfortunately, for a career changer it’s almost as hard to get an internship as it is to get a job. Therefore, you need to approach getting an internship with some creativity. When networking, if someone talks about an interesting project that they’re involved with, offer to help. You could also contact an organization that you’re interested in and suggest an internship for yourself, even if there isn’t one posted. Focus on what you could contribute and how it would be beneficial for their organization.
Tailoring your Job Search Materials
This entails a resume makeover so that your interest and skills in a new field are apparent, even if you don’t have relevant experience. This is your “new field” resume.
The Summary Statement
This is the first category underneath your contact information. It is 3-5 sentences written in the third person that point out your qualifications, skills, and transferrable skills for the new field. It should mirror the key words that you are seeing in job descriptions without it looking like an application for a specific posting.
This should identify your degree major or concentration. If you have a thesis title or a capstone project, list the name. Underneath the degree have a line called “Relevant Coursework” which lists the names of courses that you have already or are currently taking.
If you possess an impressive set of hard skills in the new field, list them here. Foreign languages can be included if they are relevant. If the skills are not that impressive, put this category at the bottom of the resume.
As part of your program, you may have been involved in project work, either on your own or as part of a group. List the project name and dates, and use bullet points with action verbs, the same way that you would describe any job. Try to show the skills that you used during the project and if possible, include an outcome or an accomplishment.
If the work experience you’ve had is NOT relevant to the new field, list the jobs, job titles and dates in reverse chronological order without bullet points. Keep the resume to one page, using an 11 font size for the bullet points.
The Cover Letter
This is another weapon in your arsenal to help explain your qualifications for a new field. The cover letter gives you a chance to expand on your skills and qualifications that are listed on the resume. Tailor it to the position by addressing each point on the job description posting that you are qualified for. Keep it to one page and make sure it’s well-written.
There are no guarantees, but if you can do most of what’s suggested above, you’ll give yourself a much better chance of working at something you really care about.