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How to Explain a Career Change on an Interview

by Ellie Williams

If you’re pursuing a career change, many employers will wonder why you suddenly decided to take your life in an entirely new direction. Address their concerns about your qualifications and your commitment by emphasizing why the change makes perfect sense for your goals, interests and skills.

Describe Goals

Discuss how the shift supports your long-term career goals so employers know you’re prepared to make a permanent change. If you previously worked in management, tell employers that while you learned a lot from the experience, you always wanted a more hands-on role. That’s why you decided to pursue a career where you could focus solely on creating products or interacting with clients. Or, say that you always planned to move into a career where you can make an immediate difference in the lives of others.

Keep It Positive

Express enthusiasm for your new career and emphasize what attracted you to the profession. Don’t criticize your previous occupation, no matter how unhappy you were. For example, don’t say that you hated working with the public or were bored by the work. Also, don’t admit that you’re changing careers because you weren’t successful in your previous field. Instead, say after learning about the profession you realized it was a better fit for your skills and interests. If you focus only on the negatives, employers might see you as disgruntled or simply settling for a job out of desperation.

Explain the Timing

Employers might wonder why you’re changing careers now, especially if you’ve invested significant time pursuing your degree or building your reputation. They might also worry you’re a serial “job hopper" who will jump ship if another career catches your eye. Discuss why it’s the perfect time in your life to try something new. For example, tell employers that now that you have children, you’re seeking a career that offers more flexibility and a better work-life balance. Or, say that after so many years working in the public eye, a behind-the-scenes role is a better match for your lifestyle.

Focus on Transferable Skills

You'll need to work harder to convince employers of your qualifications if you have limited experience in the industry. Instead of focusing on your inexperience, shift the employer’s attention to how your background has prepared you for the role you’re seeking. If the job requires excellent communication skills, point out that at your previous jobs you spent much of your time leading meetings or dealing with clients. Portray your career change as a natural progression by discussing how your past jobs provided a solid foundation for the profession you’re pursuing now.

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