Working Strategies: Launching your career-change job search

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Amy Lindgren

Second Sunday Series – Editor’s Note: This is the tenth of 12 columns on making a career change which appear the second Sunday of each month, from September through August. Last month’s column discussed networking, while the months before focused on getting experience in your new career; LinkedIn for career-changers; résumé strategies; the back-to-school decision; career-change steps in your 60s; 10 ideas for choosing a new career; a sample timeline; and questions to consider when changing careers. 

While career-change job search is similar to any other job search, there are at least two important differences. One is internal, in that career-changers often perceive themselves to be lacking in some way, such as contacts in the field, related experience, or possibly credentials.

As a short-cut, here’s a good piece of advice: If you’ve checked the boxes, then you’re ready. That is, if you’ve done even minimal networking in your new field, identified transferrable skills, and confirmed you have at least the baseline credentials, you are market-ready.

But will the market see you as ready?

This brings up the other difference in career-change job search, which relates to process. With fewer directly related job experiences, career-changers can be overlooked by online application systems. That means your process must rely on direct contact with likely employers, rather than response to ads where you’ll compete with others already working in the field.

Want to see how that would look? Follow these five steps and you’ll soon be cashing paychecks in your new career.

1. Confirm your job target: Imagine you want to change from teaching to writing for a living. Is writing your job target? Not yet — if you plug “writer” into a job board, you’ll see the problem. A huge variety of non-relevant options will pop up, which is essentially the issue you’ll encounter when trying to network into a job. You need to be more specific.

For this example, we’ll use “nonprofit communications” as the job target. To be the most useful, job targets include a type of work and also a type of organization. If your target isn’t specific, now is the time to nail that down.

2. Identify places to work: Which nonprofits appeal to you? Your criteria is personal, but your list could be based on size, location, mission, or their reputation as an employer. This takes research, so plan some time to access directories, networking contacts or online resources to build your list of 25-50 places.

3. Send letters of introduction: If you thought the next step was to answer online ads, you’re partly right but mostly not. For the reasons already noted, your career-change job search strategy is to contact potential employers outside of the posting process. And, based on the truth that every job turns over eventually, and that job openings are frequently filled without being posted, that could be almost anyone.

The letter itself can be quite simple. For example, “Dear ___, I’m writing to introduce myself and to inquire about your need for a skilled communicator on your team. I’m experienced in creating newsletters, web content, event flyers and other materials important to nonprofits such as _____. Even if you’re not currently planning to hire a communications professional, I would appreciate the opportunity to talk briefly and hear your advice as I move forward in my job search. My résumé is attached here; I look forward to connecting soon.”

Of course, the letter would be stronger if you can describe previous interactions with this nonprofit, or something about your goals for working there. But even a short note makes an impact if it lands at the right time. This would go to the director or to a department head, depending on the organization’s size.

4. Set a pace, including follow-up: If you’re in a hurry, send 10-15 letters a week; otherwise, 3-5 will be fine. Since you’ll be following up in a week or two, you don’t want to “out-run your headlights” as they say. The follow-up, by the way, can be as simple as “Hello again _____, just refreshing this email in case you’d have time to talk about potential communications positions at ____. Thanks so much…”

5. Troubleshoot: After contacting 25-50 organizations you should receive at least a handful of responses. If that’s not happening, stop to troubleshoot. This is mostly a numbers game, but only if you’re on the right track to begin with.

Plan for success. Of course you’ll be getting interviews soon — come back for the next Second Sunday column for tips on career-changer interview strategies.

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Amy Lindgren owns a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at

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