If you're changing careers, you can expect to be asked questions about why you're making the switch during your interview. These inquiries can cover a lot of ground, from asking about your motivations to trying to determine if this is the first of many potential career swerves.
There's nothing wrong with changing careers. In fact, it's often a smart move—people change careers to increase their earning power, have more of an impact, improve their career satisfaction, and shift their work-life balance. But since potential employers are very likely to spend time during the interview asking about a career change, it's important to prepare responses in advance.
What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know
At one level, your interviewer will be curious—what led you to make the change? Was it due to boredom, a lack of opportunities, or other factors? They'll want to understand your thinking, and what you find appealing about the new career path.
It's a good idea to explain why the new career path is preferable (and not focus too much on the negative aspects of your former career).
Employers are also motivated by their need to generate a return on their investment with new hires. They want to hire people who they think will make a lasting commitment to the company. In your answer, you'll need to address any concerns the employer might have about how long you will remain on the job. This is especially important if your resume indicates that you've had multiple new positions within a short period of time.
Career Change Interview Questions
Some common interview questions that may come up if you're making a career change include:
- Why are you changing careers?
- Why should I take a risk on you, since you've changed fields before?
- Do you have the skills necessary to succeed in this new career?
- Are there any skills you learned in your previous career that will be helpful in this new one?
Tips for Answering Questions About Changing Careers
Don't be intimidated by answering career change questions during a job interview. Keep these strategies in mind:
Match Your Skills to the Role
The best way to answer this kind of question is to emphasize how well this particular position fits your interests. It's also a good idea to showcase any transferable skills that carry over from your previous career. Review each element of the job description and note the responsibilities that are most interesting to you. Think of parallel roles you've had in the past and be ready to describe how fulfilling that work was for you.
Position yourself as a solution, not a potential risk.
Match what you have to offer to the list of job requirements and give your best sales pitch, emphasizing the traits and characteristics that make you a unique and solid match for the job.
From our conversation, it seems like you're looking for someone to come in and take charge of your editorial department. With my seven years of experience working in online and print publishing, I have saved companies thousands of dollars by working efficiently with freelancers. In my last job, I hit the ground running, overseeing 50 off-site editors and sized up problems quickly with our online publishing platform. I'm able to stay focused in stressful situations, such as when we increased our article production by 50% month over month.
Do Your Research
Research your new career field thoroughly and present a detailed explanation about why you are making the change. Speak with contacts working in your new field and shadow them to gain a more in-depth view of their work role. If possible, intern or volunteer for a short time to show prospective employers that you are knowledgeable about the field and committed to your new role.
If you think your employment history might raise a red flag regarding your level of commitment to each job you've held, emphasize how your past experience has led you to this field and the ways in which it bolstered your confidence for this new position.
For example, you might mention that in the past, you changed fields because of the allure of a higher salary, more responsibility, or greater status, but didn't carefully consider how stimulating the actual work would be. You can mention that you grew from that experience and are ready to fully commit to a new position.
Tell a Story
Job hopping in and of itself doesn’t need to be detrimental to your profile as a job seeker. It’s all about how you frame your response. Look for ways to show continuity in your career path. Tell a story that shows continued growth.
For example, maybe your last three jobs seem unrelated on the surface but allowed you to assume additional leadership responsibilities with each change. Demonstrate that in your answer, and then show how you’d be able to use what you’ve learned to excel in the role you’re discussing.
Keep Your Answer Short and Sweet
Your goal is to answer this question as quickly and persuasively as possible, and then move on to the rest of the interview. Don’t dwell on the topic any longer than necessary.
Practice Your Response
The best antidote to nerves is preparation. If you’ve changed jobs multiple times in the past, you should be prepared for this or similar questions. Formulate a response, and then practice delivering it until you feel completely comfortable. (Don’t memorize it, however. You don’t want to seem like you’re delivering your statement before a judge.)
What to Avoid
There are a few responses that can sour an interviewer on you, or generally work against your candidacy. Here's what to avoid:
- Sharing "bad" reasons for a career switch. Maybe a big motivation for your career switch was that your original career was boring or had low pay. Or maybe at your previous job, you had a manager that was absolutely toxic. These are all valid reasons that could lead a person to a career change — but they're not necessarily the points to emphasize in an interview. Instead, focus on the benefits you gained through a career swap.
- Negotiating against yourself. When you’re feeling insecure in an interview situation, it’s easy to start having both sides of the conversation. Resist the urge. Now is not the time to be self-deprecating or to bring yourself down. Be positive – and don’t be afraid to fake confidence if you need to.
- Lack of passion. Changing careers is a big deal, and ideally, you'll feel passionate and excited about your new path. Displaying that can reassure managers who may worry that you're likely to switch careers yet again after an initial move.
EXPECT QUESTIONS. If you've switched careers, you can expect interviewers to ask at least one—and potentially several—questions about the topic.
PREPARE IN ADVANCE. Doing research, making a list of transferable skills, and thinking through your response in advance will help you give a strong answer in the interview.
TELL A GOOD STORY. If there's a way to show why this career move makes sense in the context of your previous jobs and interests, that'll be very compelling to interviewers.