How to Talk About Career Change in an Interview

4 minute read

So you want to make a career change. You’ve identified the role, written a brilliant application and now you have an interview. Congratulations! Next, all you need to do is talk convincingly about why you want to change career and how it will benefit your potential new employer. Easy, right?!

The good news is, if you’ve got as far as an interview, then you know the recruiter is open to someone from outside the charity sector or their particular specialism, so there’s everything to play for. Here’s how to talk about career change in an interview.

Sell your transferable skills

A successful career change is all about transferable skills. So when you think about your career history, rather than the actual roles you’ve done, think about the experience you’ve gained from them. Make a list of all the skills you’ve ever used at work and how they would map on to your potential new job.
Then, in your interview, give examples of these skills and how you’ve used them. You can even go a step further and explain how you would apply those skills to this role, as well as bring new ideas and different perspectives.

You could say something like:

I have five years’ experience of managing major client accounts, where I used my communication skills to build relationships over time. I know this is very important in fundraising, so I could use this experience to hit the ground running. I also have some ideas on how to develop the charity’s relationship with corporates.

Two men interviewing a woman

Prepare for being asked why you want to change career

Of all the questions to practice before your interview, this is probably the most important. You should answer honestly, but keep your reasons positive and focused on the future (i.e. this isn’t the moment to bad-mouth your current job or industry).

Looking for a role that’s more meaningful, or better aligns with your values? Lead with this. Also, if you have a particular passion for, or personal connection to, the charity’s cause, mention this upfront. Even if you don’t, it’s a good idea to reference their work and why you’d like to be part of their mission.

Focus on what you hope to gain from the role and how it aligns with your long-term career goals. You could even ask a question about progression, to show you’ve considered this and would be in it for the long haul.

When you prepare your answer, think about why the recruiter wants to know about your career change. This specific question isn’t usually about finding out if you could do the job, but why you want to do it, if you’ll stick at it and if they’d get a good return on an investment in you. If you give clear and honest reasons, then the interviewer is much more likely to view you positively than if you hesitate or avoid the question.

Show you’ve done your homework

Make sure you’ve done enough research before your interview. You want to be able to talk confidently about the charity sector, the specialism you want to move into, as well as the organisation you’re applying to. You won’t be expected to know everything, so it’s fine (even encouraged!) to ask questions too. But showing you have a good idea of what the job will involve and an awareness of any potential challenges and cultural differences, proves you’re serious and not just making a stab in the dark to get out of your current role.

Find a career with meaning

Explain how you’ll fill any gaps in your experience

If you’re changing career, and haven’t worked in that sector or specialism before, then there’s likely to be some gaps between your experience and the requirements of the role. Two things are key here: be honest and be prepared.

It’s okay to have some gaps in your experience. The recruiter knows you’re changing career and will be expecting this—so trying to avoid talking about it, or lying, won’t count in your favour. Before the interview, identify any gaps you have and potential ways you could fill them. What’s the nearest experience you do have and how could you build on it? Could you do a training course, some work shadowing, or find a mentor? Show you’re aware of your weaknesses and have a plan to address them.

Go the extra mile

Done some volunteering in the area you want to move into? Or a specific training course? Make sure you talk about it. If you don’t get asked a question that naturally segues into it, then it’s fine to bring it up at the end of the interview.

Depending on the role you’re interviewing for, you could consider going above and beyond requirements by taking along some work as evidence you could do the job. This could be some designs, a marketing plan or a list of fundraising ideas. As well as demonstrating your capabilities, putting in this extra effort shows that you’re committed to your career change.
Go the extra mile for a career change interview

Believe in yourself

Most importantly, believe in yourself! You have to really believe in your skills and experience and how you can apply them to a new role. If you’re not sure, then how will you convince the recruiter?

Give some examples of how you’ve dealt with new circumstances in the past, to show that you’re adaptable and comfortable with change. And make sure you look and sound confident in your decision—practice your body language in the mirror beforehand if you need to. Don’t let the recruiter detect any hint of doubt. They aren’t trying to catch you out, but they want to understand your motivations and if you’d be a risk for them to employ. So you need to convince them on all levels that you’re a safe bet.

Talking about career change in an interview can be dauting, but speaking honestly and confidently and showing passion, commitment and self-awareness will give you the best chance of success. Good luck!

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Karen Harlow

Karen Harlow is Senior Content Manager at CharityJob.

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