How to Write a Persuasive Cover Letter When Changing Careers or Industries

FT Contributor  | 

Resumes and CSVs are great tools to have on hand when you’re job-hunting. However, if you’re looking to change the industry you work in or take your career in an entirely new direction, a simple resume or CSV can come up short.

That’s where a good cover letter comes in. A well-written cover letter allows you to state your case, demonstrate your passions, and express your interest in a position. It provides a unique channel of persuasion that you should take full advantage of if you find yourself trying to make a major shift part way through your professional career.

Cover Letter Tips for Switching Industries

There are a few important elements to include in a cover letter, particularly when switching careers, industries, or both.

Use a Unique Hook

A good hook is already an important part of any cover letter. A hook is especially essential when you’re trying to enter a new industry. Your opening line is your first (and sometimes your last) chance to grab the attention of a hiring manager. If you come across as just another boilerplate candidate — and one with little to no experience in their field, no less — the reader may not get past your intro.

Take advantage of your introduction to include a powerful hook that draws the reader in. Avoid cliches like, “I think I’m the perfect fit for this job,” or, “I was so excited to find your job advert.”

Instead, come out swinging. Ask the reader a question, provide an open-ended detail about yourself that relates to the position, or even summarize an anecdote. In short: use your introduction to hook the recruiter.

Provide General Experience

Oftentimes, what you learn from general experience is just as, if not more valuable than specific experience. It always helps to explain that you’re a good worker. Regardless of the industry or career, the ability to demonstrate a work history of commitment, loyalty, and reliability can establish you as a quality person to work with.

Also, capitalize on any non-professional qualifications. If, for instance, you’re applying for a job in software development, it could help to point out that you took a beginner’s software development course in your spare time or tinkered with creating video game mods in the past.

List Your Transferable Skills

If you want to beat out more qualified candidates that have industry-specific hard skills, emphasize everything possible that qualifies you for the position. For example, there are many soft skills that apply to any industry. Take the time to assess the soft skills you possess and then point them out in your cover letter.

Start by reading the job description carefully. Identify any piece of your work history that translates well to your new field and connect the dots as to how this experience will help you in a new industry. Emphasize your ability to work hard, your past track record as a team player, your communication skills, or your ability to adapt and learn. These are all important personality traits that will help you make your case.

Share Your Story

An abrupt change in careers can look odd at times, and a recruiter may want to know why you’re making a change. Are you following a long-held passion? Are you pursuing a long-term goal? Take some time to explain why you’ve chosen to change careers.

Convey Passion

Passion can make or break your application. While following your passion isn’t always advisable when job-hunting, it’s the calling card for someone who is trying to change industries.

If you come across as cold or disinterested, you’re going to be overlooked for more qualified candidates. Make sure to professionally demonstrate that your lack of experience or training is thoroughly offset by your passion to learn and apply yourself.

Keep It Simple

We’ve already brought up sharing your story, conveying your passion, and listing both general experiences and transferable skills. While these are all good to include in one way or another, it’s also important to make sure you don’t become long-winded as you go.

A recruiter will be sifting through dozens, hundreds, and possibly even thousands of applications. They won’t have time to read a candidate’s mini-autobiography. Make sure to keep your wording and explanations short and simple if you want them to be read.

Edit and Review

As is the case with all business letters, it’s critical that you carefully edit your cover letter before sending it. Proofread for punctuation and grammar errors, and read it over to make sure it flows well.

Sample Cover Letter for a Career Transition

If you’re still feeling intimidated about writing a good cover letter, don’t worry. Below is a template with a formal business letter structure. Simply copy and paste it into a document and fill out each section with your own unique information. Remember to edit and review it once you’re finished.

[Date.]

[Name of recruiter.]
[Position of recruiter.]
[Name of company.]
[Address of company.]

Dear [name of recruiter — either use their full name or Mr., Ms., Mrs. and their last name],

[Begin with a good hook. Use a story, question, or detail about yourself that is related to the position.]

[Use the rest of the body of the letter to list your general experiences and transferable skills. Consider using bullet points. Remember to highlight your own story and passions as they relate to the job. Keep everything concise and to the point.]

[Include a brief but strong closing. Reiterate your case in summary and then thank the recruiter for their time. You can also utilize a subtle call to action such as, “I look forward to speaking with you soon.”]

[Closing phrase, — e.g. sincerely, regards, cordially.]

[Your name.]

[Your contact information.]


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