Careers advice

Tips for career change job interviews

With the right prep, there’s no need to fear career change interviews.

What you’ll learn:

  • How to succeed in career change job interviews
  • Common career change interview questions (and how to answer them)

Ka pai – getting a job interview when you’re switching career path is no mean feat! It shows the employer is interested in what you have to offer, despite your unusual employment trajectory.

However, nailing this next step is all about preparation. For you, this includes knowing how to deal with the unique circumstances that come with career change interviews.

Let’s explore the best ways to sell yourself to the hiring manager, and some of the questions you should expect to answer.

How to succeed in career change job interviews

1. Emphasise your transferable skills

This includes both hard and soft skills.

For example, if you were previously in administration and were looking at a move into data handling, IT experience would be a great hard skill to highlight in your interview.

Soft skills tend to be even easier to translate. Just about any employer will be interested if you can show how you’ve dealt with pressure, communicated with teammates or adapted to change, even if it was in a different environment.

Top tip: we recommend sitting down with the job listing and your Trade Me Jobs Profile. This way you can easily cross reference the core requirements from the role with your past skills and experience, and make a strong list of talking points for the interview.

Whatever direction you're heading in, some of your professional skills will carry across.

2. Show how you’ll fill any gaps

It’s okay if you don’t meet all the requirements in the job ad – few applicants do. However, you need to be able to demonstrate that you’re aware of your knowledge gaps, and have a plan to fill them.

This could be through taking a course, studying online or finding an industry mentor. If you’ve already begun this process, make sure the interviewer knows this – proactivity is always a good look.

3. Know why you’re changing careers and be able to explain it

You’ll need to be able to give reasons for your career change in the job interview.

The aim here is simple: show you’ve thought things through. The hiring manager may have concerns that, if you’ve made a big career change once, you could do it again, so calm their nerves. Demonstrate that you’re not flighty, and that you didn’t just wake up one day and decide you fancied a change.

This means being able to demonstrate a passion or a drive for why you decided to change careers. For example, was there a particular experience or moment that led you to decide to take this new path? Or is it something you’ve wanted to do for a long time, but you needed to wait for the stars to align? Being able to express this to the interviewer will go a long way to convincing them that this isn’t a fleeting thought, but rather something that you’re serious about.

4. Discuss how your old career could give you an edge

One of the most common mistakes candidates make in career change interviews is being apologetic about their lack of industry experience.

Remember, this employer has shown an interest in you, and you can turn your varied experience to your advantage. If you can show how your former career allows you to bring a different perspective to the role, this can help you stand out from applicants who have followed a more traditional path.

Remind yourself, and the interviewer, that you’re not starting from scratch, and the unique combination of knowledge and experience you have could be exactly what they need.

Come into the interview prepared to talk about why you're changing careers.

5. Leverage your network

While you don’t want to name drop for the sake of it, if you have relevant industry contacts that may benefit the organisation, make sure the hiring manager is aware.

For example, if you’ve worked for years in PR, and are thinking about a career change into journalism, former colleagues and contacts could make great sources for stories.

6. Pay attention to details

When you’re trying to convince someone that you’re the right person for the role, despite coming from an unusual career trajectory, the smallest details matter. For example, if you’re moving into the corporate world, after having worked in a start-up, you want to ensure you’ve dressed as would be expected when interviewing for such a job (i.e formally). It might not seem like a big deal, but getting things like this wrong can underscore the fact that you’ve come from a different sector, and might not understand your new world.

Common career change interview questions (and how to answer them)

1. “Why are you changing careers?”

The best answers here go beyond reassuring the hiring manager that you aren’t a flight risk. This is a golden opportunity to show them just how passionate you are about the industry you’re looking to move into.

Why? Because career changes involve leaving your comfort zone. Show the hiring manager that you’re taking a calculated risk, with proper preparation, to follow a long term goal. Talk about why this job is ideal for you, and demonstrate how you’ll bring the same passion and energy to your role

2. “What makes you think you will succeed in this role?”

This is where you hit those core transferable hard and soft skills we talked about earlier. Remember to also be prepared to talk about any knowledge gaps the interviewer might question you on, and show how you’ll overcome them.

Bonus tip: got a proven track record of success from your previous role? Don’t be afraid to talk about it. Employers love goal oriented staff, and showing you’re a consistent target hitter is great, even if the objectives themselves aren’t directly translatable.

Show how the interviewer how can adapt your track record of success to their organisation.

3. “How can you be certain this role is for you?”

Like the first question, this is aimed at finding out if you’re really set on this new career path. Good answers will demonstrate that this has been a long(ish) standing ambition for you, and that you’re taking concrete steps to make a success of the transition.

Show you’ve done your research on what the day-to-day realities of life in this industry would entail, and any courses or qualifications you’ve completed.

4. “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

Questions like this crop up in most interviews, not just for career changers, and mean the interviewer is interested in your future plans.

While you don’t have to tell them that you plan on being there five years down the line, we highly recommend at least sticking to the same industry. Of course, if you genuinely do want to stick with their company, shout about it!

5. “How do you feel about starting over?”

This is a deliberately provocative question, but answering it couldn’t be easier. You just need to show that you’re not really starting over. You’ve built up a solid bank of skills and experience, and you’ve got a plan for making your new direction a success for you and them.

This is also a good moment to talk about any proactive steps you’ve taken to upskill in areas that would be helpful to your new career sector, again underlining the idea that you’ve been laying the groundwork for this change.

6. “Why should we hire you over a candidate with more experience in the field?”

This one is also quite contentious, and cuts right to the heart of the major concerns a business is likely to have about hiring someone who’s changing careers. To answer this effectively, you need to turn the question on its head – make it about why someone with your alternative set of skills and experience is actually the perfect candidate, and how you bring something that other candidates can’t.

Don’t be apologetic for your lack of experience, and don’t say things like “I realise it might feel like a risk to take me on”. If you exude confidence in fulfilling the job requirements, this will cut through to the interview panel.