Shifting careers? Here are some tips to ace your job interview.

Contrary to what many people think, changing careers isn’t all that uncommon. Today, there’s a prevailing attitude of openness to career opportunities—in Singapore, for example, 42 percent of workers said they are “extremely interested” to learn about job opportunities outside of their companies.

In many ways, the death knell of the company man—the loyal and steadfast employee who’s committed to the interests of the organization that employs him—is a reflection of the changing nature of work. In a time where skill sets have a shorter shelf life than ever (less than five years, according to a LinkedIn study), many job seekers are scrambling just to stay relevant to potential employers. Today, everyone’s expected to pick up new skills, learn new tools, and be familiar with new systems.

For example, web designers are expected to have a background in SEO and digital marketing; administrative assistants need to be proficient with computers and cloud-based software; assembly-line workers have had to learn how to work alongside robots.

All of this has also chipped away at the notion that once you get an education or training in a certain field, you’re pretty much stuck there until you retire. Employers are also open to career shifters, provided they can prove they have the skills needed for the open job.

Fortunately, if you’ve already landed a job interview after deciding to shift careers, it means you’ve already succeeded in selling your experience, at least on paper. Now it’s just a matter of sealing the deal for your career transition and demonstrating, through the interview, the value your experience and skills bring to the team.

Job interview questions to expect for career shifters

Below are a few questions you expect in this situation and how you can answer them.

How does your background in a different industry or role make you suitable for this position?

If you want to convince a new employer that you’re the best candidate for a position, you need to back it up with clear examples of your work and the kind of results your tasks generated.

Start by writing down everything you do, down to the smallest details—from mundane everyday tasks to your accomplishments. Be sure to identify projects and responsibilities in your previous role that may align with the new position you’re applying for.

Once you’ve identified a few excellent examples, you can then use the STAR technique (Situation, Task, Activity, and Result) to provide clear and concrete explanations of how you contributed to your previous company.

  • Situation – What is the context of your particular experience? For example, “I was able to show my managerial skills by leading a team of web developers to complete an urgent last-minute project.”
  • Task – What was your specific role in this situation? “I was assigned the role of lead developer and oversaw backend development and deployment.”
  • Activity – What exactly did you do? “I worked closely with the client in determining the scope of the project and led the team in bringing these needs to fruition.” (This is where you can describe the strategies you employed to achieve your goal.)
  • Result – What results did your actions generate? “We rolled out the product a day ahead of schedule.”

As a clincher, make sure you explain how you would apply that experience in your new role. After all, the skills required for managing a team can apply to any industry.

Why should we hire you over a graduate who studied this field?

This may seem like an aggressive question, but if you put yourself in a hiring manager’s shoes, it’s easy to see why they would be hesitant to hire someone with no background in their particular industry.

The key here is framing. Your job is to show potential employers how your particular skillset and knowledge from your industry can be an advantage, rather than a weakness, over those who actually studied in the field you seek to join.

For example, if your job experience has been predominantly in customer service and sales in a software company and now you’re switching to software development, you can bring attention to the keen understanding of what end-users want from software and what their most complaints are as a way of bringing value to the development team.

Of course, applying for relevant jobs will also help make your transition easier. For example, if your work experience has been in the travel industry and you want to move into tech, consider looking for tech companies with a travel service or hospitality-related product.

Why have you decided to make a career shift?

You don’t want to wait until the day of the interview to think about how you will explain the reason for your career change. Make no mistake about it, it will come up in the interview.

That being said, you want to plan ahead and practice your response so you don’t get caught off-guard. Show the hiring manager that your decision was a carefully planned move. This will prove that you are serious about the role and aren’t just applying for the next job you see on a whim.

Whatever your motivation, just be sure you’re honest and that you leave whatever baggage you have at home. You can, of course, say that less than desirable circumstances were part of your decision to change careers, but you should definitely avoid talking negatively about your previous role, employer, and industry. Instead, talk about the opportunities you see with the experience and skills you have, and in the market that you’re entering.

Increasing your chances of getting hired

Even before you get scheduled for your first job interview after shifting careers, there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of your getting hired.

  • Before you begin applying for jobs in a different industry or role, look for job ads related to that position and keep an eye out for the skills listed in these ads. This will help you know which skills are transferable from your previous roles and which ones need development. 
  • If you’re in between jobs, now’s the perfect time to join classes and workshops to develop new skills or improve existing ones even further. You can also work on relevant personal projects, as long as you can showcase how they helped you build up the desired skills. 
  • Sometimes, it’s not about what you know, but who you know, which is why it’s a good idea to attend events related to the industry you plan on entering. Networking events offer a great opportunity to meet industry professionals and learn from their experiences. You may even end up getting referred to open job postings.

Finding work after a career shift is possible

First, the good news. Getting interviewed for a job in a new field isn’t exactly a hard reset, so you don’t have to worry about starting from scratch and working your up from an entry-level role. The not so good news, however, is that you’ll have to work extra hard to make a strong case for yourself, especially during the interview process. Be sure to prepare anecdotes, supported with hard facts, to demonstrate how your work experience can be applied to your new career or role. Get this right and hiring managers won’t see you as a complete newbie, but a skilled and experienced candidate needing only a bit of polishing. 

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