How to job search as a career changer

Photo by Chris Abney / Unsplash

Job hunting is a nerve-wracking process. You can spend a ton of time studying and preparing, go through rounds of interviews, then get rejected, or even worse, ghosted by recruiters.

If you’re a career changer, the process seems even more daunting. You’re in the dark about the hiring process for this new career path or industry. You have less experience. And, fewer people in your network can help you prepare. You know that the hiring manager may need to take a chance on you to select you over the other candidates.

Take a deep breath and don't worry - the career change process is achievable and surprisingly well trodden. Thousands of coding bootcamp grads find jobs every year, and you can too.  

A little about me first - I’ve changed careers several times in my life, from tech startups to management consulting to Google. I’ve even moved a few times within Google. I’ve also worked with students at Flatiron School, a top coding bootcamp. I’m now taking all that I’ve learned and building a data engineering bootcamp, Jigsaw Labs.

This article helps you design a job search strategy that’s customized to work for you. Whether you’re transitioning from biology to data science, or from sales executive to data engineering, others have walked this path and you can follow their footsteps. We’ll figure out how to approach the job hunt, get inside the mind of hiring managers, and develop an approach to present why you’re the right person for the job.

Your career isn’t a ladder, it’s a jungle gym

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First, let’s address the misconception of having to climb the career ladder. It’s an antiquated notion, and even our parents’ generation didn’t follow that formula!  In an interview, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said that when she looks back on her life and connects the dots, her career looks like a jungle gym (interview). If you force yourself to climb a ladder,  “you’re going to miss all the good stuff — all the good stuff hasn’t been invented yet!”.

This is especially true for the tech industry, where different technologies and professions are emerging every year. As a career changer, this is great news for you! You aren’t so different from the other job seekers, and on top of that, you may actually bring a unique skill set that can help you stand out from the pack.

So let’s figure out how to highlight your unique advantage and position yourself in the best light.

Exercise 1: What’s unique about you?

Let’s start with an introspection exercise. We’ll start by collecting information that can be used to articulate your skills, the impact you’ve made, and the value you can bring to a role.

Look back on your work history, and take a few minutes to fill out the worksheet below. Don’t overthink your answers, just focus on the highlights for now. If you’re a recent college grad, feel free to include class projects and internships. We’ll refine this sheet in the following sections.

Note: you can make a personal copy of the worksheet here.


Where am I in my career?

High level summary (elevator pitch)

One or two sentences that summarize your skills, your passions, and why you’re transitioning to a new career.


  • I’m a <background> with an interest in <themes>, who’s transitioning to <new role> in order to <personal or career goal>

My technical skills

[e.g. your most fluent technical languages, software stacks, and STEM skills. Think keywords that recruiters search for and employers filter resumes by.]

My soft skills

[e.g. people, organizational, or prioritization skills that show you can take ownership of projects, work independently, as well as interact with or lead different types of coworkers.]

The impact I’ve made

[Now, transition from what you did to what you achieved. How did your actions impact the projects and companies you were a part of? Can you measure that impact, for example in $ or customers? ]

My unique experiences

[Do you have any experiences or insights that are rare or unique, for example in a particular industry or a specific function?]

Now take a step back and look at this worksheet again. Hopefully you’re realizing that you have many valuable and transferable skills! Let’s move on to the next section - connecting the dots from where you are to where you want to go.

Exercise 2: How to pitch yourself

Let’s figure out how to re-package your experiences and customize your pitch. For this exercise, pull up a few job listings that you want to apply to.

Then, think back to the jungle gym analogy. By changing jobs, you’re moving to the next rung. Maybe it’s a lateral move, which could mean you’re staying in a similar position, but changing industries. Maybe you’re trying to climb diagonally, where you’re changing both roles and industry, but will still be using many of the same skills as you did in a previous position. For both climbing on the playground and changing jobs, it’s easier to move in one direction at a time, rather than multiple directions (diagonally).

So for example, if you’re currently a data analyst, it’ll be much easier for you to remain a data analyst or switch to a junior data engineer role, than to move to a machine learning engineer role.

Now put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes. They want to hire somebody who’ll be able to quickly perform on the job, and grow at the company over the long run. As a career changer - your aim is to de-risk the hiring manager’s decision as much as possible, and convince them that you’d be a great fit, even if you’re a bit more unconventional. You want to show that you check off most of their boxes, and will be able to pick up the rest of the skills pretty quickly.

Let’s go back to our worksheet. Fill in this new version to identify what existing skills you can leverage in the new job, and what part of that job will be a stretch for you. Remember, it will be easier for the hiring manager to say yes if you have lots of transferable skills, and they only need to take a risk on a few things.


Where am I in my career?

What do I need to succeed at this new job?

High level summary (elevator pitch)

Augment your elevator pitch by adding why you’d be a great fit for the new job.


  • I’m a <background> with an interest in <themes>, who’s transitioning to <new role> in order to <personal or career goal>. I’d be a great fit for <this job> because I can build on my <skills> while growing in <stretch areas>.

My technical skills

[e.g. your most fluent technical languages, software stacks, and STEM skills. Think keywords that recruiters search for and employers filter resumes by.]

Key technical skills:

  • <skills I already have>

  • <skills I’m learning>

  • <skills I don’t have>


My soft skills

[e.g. people, organizational, or prioritization skills that show you can take ownership of projects, work independently, as well as interact with or lead different types of coworkers.]

Key soft skills:

  • <skills I already have>

  • <skills I’m learning>

  • <skills I don’t have>

The impact I’ve made

[Now, transition from what you did to what you achieved. How did your actions impact the projects and companies you were a part of? Can you measure that impact, for example in $ or customers? ]

Ideally - a well crafted job listing should talk about responsibilities and impact this role will have.

  • <scope of impact I’ve had>

  • <scope that’s new to me>

My unique experiences

[Do you have any experiences or insights that are rare or unique, for example in a particular industry or a specific function?]

This is a bonus section - if your unique experiences will be valuable in this new role, this can help weigh your application in your favor.

Using the completed this version of the worksheet, you should be able to:

  • Find and target job listings where you have a lot of transferable skills
  • Craft your pitch to highlight your value and transferable skills, while showing that you’re eager to learn new ones.
  • Identify and fill in the gaps in your skills - identify the common “skills I don’t have” and start learning them.

Exercise 3: Craft your elevator pitch

Let’s put this worksheet to work and craft your elevator pitch. Generally, an elevator pitch is a short and memorable 30 second summary of yourself. The great thing is, you can now remix those building blocks and customize your pitch to the job or occasion. You can create longer or shorter versions, or focus on skills and interests that are appropriate for the job that you’re targeting.

Let’s take a look at these two examples for somebody who’s transitioning from an analyst role. In the first example, they’re changing companies but not role, and in the second they’re also transitioning to a data engineering role.

Pay attention to how I reworked much of the same content to target the different roles. Then, try doing this with the job listings that you pulled for the last exercise.


Sample elevator pitch

Template

I’m a <background> with an interest in <themes>, who’s transitioning to <new role> in order to <personal or career goal>. I’d be a great fit for <this job> because I can build on my <skills> while growing in <stretch areas>.

Data analyst @bank 

→ 

Data analyst @Google

I’m a <Data Analyst at a consumer bank>, and I’ve always enjoyed <extracting insights from large data sets and making business impact>. I’m looking to increase my skills by <transitioning to a company that has world class data processes and infrastructure, and cutting edge modeling techniques>. I’d be a great fit for the Data Analyst role at Google because I can leverage <my knowledge in analysis and consumer security, which is critical in banking>, while <learning cutting edge techniques and industry leading best practices>. 

Data analyst @bank 

→ 

Data engineer @Google

I’m a <Data Analyst at a consumer bank>, and I’ve always enjoyed <extracting insights from large data sets and making business impact>. I’m looking to increase my skills by <owning the end-to-end data infrastructure and pipeline, and transitioning to a company that has world class data teams and uses cutting edge technologies>. I’d be a great fit for the Data Engineer role at Google because I can leverage <my knowledge in analysis and consumer security, which is critical in banking>, while <learning cutting edge techniques and industry leading best practices>. 

Next time:

Thanks for reading this far! We’re halfway through how to craft your job search strategy. In the follow-up article, we’ll discuss how to find the right job opportunities, as well as how to help those jobs find you.


And a plug for Jigsaw Labs. If you enjoyed our advice, and are interested in a career in data science or engineering, take a look through our site and book time with us to learn more!

Yu Chen

Yu Chen