If you’re changing careers, there are probably multiple reasons for you to do this. It is, however, important that you are able to convey your reasons during a job interview. Making a career change can have a significant impact on your (professional) life, and there requires extensive preparation. Before going to your job interview, you should spend some time coming up with a strategy that will help you convince the interviewer that you’re making the right career change.
Interviewers are looking for certain qualities that make you successful in a job. When you’re making a career change, you need to demonstrate that you have put enough consideration into your choice. For many employers, concrete reasons for you to opt for a change in careers are essential. You will face some tough questions during your interview, but with the right preparation, you can actually ace your career change interview.
By preparing for commonly asked questions during career change interviews, you can take advantage of the situation by giving answers that demonstrate that you’re a qualified applicant. This is done by relating your answers to the job requirements of the positions that you’re applying for.
Besides answering the popular question ‘why do you want to change careers?‘ you need to be able to answer questions that demonstrate the skills needed for the job. These questions are called ‘behavioral job interview questions.’ They focus on work situations that you experienced in the past. The way you respond to these questions tell the interviewer more about your work methods, skills, and abilities.
In this article, we discuss how to prepare, what the most commonly asked career change questions are, and how to answer them. Also, read more about frequently asked job interview questions here and check our job interview preparation checklist.
How to discuss a career change
If you have decided that you want to change careers, you will need to prepare to discuss why. The first step in this process is convincing the interviewer that you made the right decision because that’s what he or she is looking for. This might actually sound more difficult than it is. You can take advantage of the situations to promote yourself and demonstrate that you got what it takes to successfully perform the job.
Below we give you a step-by-step preparation walkthrough.
1. Start with the essentials and be prepared to answer ‘why?’
Why does your career change make perfect sense? Plan ahead and make sure you have a great but concise and to-the-point story on why you’re changing careers and why the best time is now. It’s important that you focus on the future in your explanation and avoid any negativity. Whatever your motivation is for your decision, you should leave any associated negative circumstances or experiences at home.
If you briefly acknowledge during the interview that circumstances were less than perfect, this is enough. There’s a chance that you got laid off or that you found out that the field you were working is not giving you enough satisfaction to stay in for the rest of your career. Avoid bad-mouthing previous employers or telling how bad the industry is and that there’s no future there for you. This information is basically useless for the interviewer, and he cannot verify any of this, so why tell it?
Focus on a simple, positive, future-orientated answer, and sell your transferable skills.
2. Focus on skills
Write down a list of skills you acquired and link them to the requirements for the job that you’re applying for. Start with your transferable skills. These are skills that you develop as you make progress throughout your career, education, and/or training. These skills are used on a daily basis and do not belong to a particular industry or job. They are general and can be transferred between jobs, industries, or departments. These traits can be used in any job position, during education or vocational training.
Think of essential skills, such as:
- Data analysis
- Time management
- Commercial awareness
3. Demonstrate your suitability through examples
Now that you know your transferable skills, it’s time to put them into practice. Think of experiences that can help you demonstrate that you have used these skills in the past during work-related situations. Show that you possess a flexible and diverse skillset to make you stand out from the crowd. In other words, know your value and use examples in answers to prove it.
It’s important that you use concrete and measurable examples from your past experiences. Next, connect the dots for the interviewer on how those your skills and abilities will translate into positive results in the new position.
4. Highlight advantages from your previous career path
Make sure to relate your example situations to the key skills the employer is looking for.
If you have build up a valuable professional network, you should demonstrate this during your job interview. In many careers, your professional connections will probably keep their value. Therefore, ensure to point this out to the interviewer.
5. Long-term goals
How does the interviewer that you’re not going to switch careers again in the next few years? To give an effective answer to this question, you want to discuss what you want to create for yourself in your new career rather than what you’re trying to avoid. Bring up the opportunities you see for the position that you’re applying for.
Also, discuss how you can add value to the position and company based on your previous work experience. In your preparation for the interview, you already need to find ways to discuss what you can take from your previous work experience and how you’re interested in transferring those skills and abilities into the context of a new employer. Demonstrate that you have conducted the needed research about the company and how you see yourself optimizing your previous work experience in order to positively impact the (potential) employer’s long-term goals.
When you’re changing careers, it’s important to highlight your excitement about facing new challenges. Therefore, make sure that you are able to show how the position is the right step in your career and that you are passionate and genuinely interested in it.
Behavioral questions about a career change
Through these interview questions, they want to find out how you react in work situations but also if and how you adjust to changing environments at work. For instance, when a new system, software, or other technology is introduced. Furthermore, interviewers want to know how you take on new tasks even if these are not part of your job description. By asking certain behavioral questions, interviewers try to assess which candidates are more qualified than others.
Behavioral job interview questions usually start with:
- Give me an example of
- Tell me about a time when you
- Have you ever
- What do you do when
- Describe situations where
This type of interview questions focuses on your past behavior in professional work settings. The reason for asking behavioral job interview questions instead of just asking traditional ones is that the most accurate predictor of future performance is your past performance in similar situations.
During your job interview, the interviewer wants to discuss previous work situations and wants you to elaborate on them. This is also the reason that you should prepare your examples prior to the interview. Ensure that you provide the interviewer the situation you were in, your task in that situation, the action you took, and the specific results that can come out of those actions. In short, this is called the STAR-method of providing an answer. The STAR method is discussed in more detail later on in this article.
What the interviewer is interested in
The interviewer wants you to prove why your career change is the right decision and how you plan on taking on new tasks. Your goal is, of course, to convince the interviewer that you have the specific set of transferable skills needed for the job.
The interviewer wants to gain knowledge about your proven work in other industries and which accomplishments in your career make you suitable for this position. They want to get insights into who you really are and how you approach your work. Basically, the interviewer wants you to prove that your skills are:
Show that you can diversify and work on multiple tasks. Flexible employees are more valuable because they can modify their approach to situations and tasks based on changing requirements. Demonstrate to the interviewer that you had stepped outside of your job description before and got something accomplished. If you have taken on more responsibilities, did different tasks simultaneously provide an example of such a situation? If you demonstrate that you’re a flexible worker, this will indicate that you are willing to do whatever it takes to get tasks accomplished. Examples of workplace flexibility skills:
- Being able to assess preferences and needs of individual clients/customers
- Working extra hours during crunch time in the office
- Learning a new type of software or implementing a new system that increases productivity and efficiency
- Offering to take on the tasks of a coworker while he or she is on leave
- Prioritizing work and being able to respond to immediate issues while keeping track of daily tasks
- Working overtime hours to support a colleague to meet a deadline for a sales proposal
How well are you able to adapt to new situations? Of course, you need to provide the interviewer with more information than just stating that you can handle change well. The interviewer wants to get an indication of how quickly you will be able to function in a new work environment.
Share experiences that demonstrate, for instance, the following:
- How you’re confident in approaching unpredictable challenges and how you tackled such situations in the past
- What past work experiences you had that required you to adapt to the situation
- The skills that helped you adapt and learn quickly such as critical thinking and problem-solving skills
- How you have used your transferable skillset in situations that are related to the requirements of the job you’re applying for
When you’re discussing example situations that you have experienced in the past that relate to the current job and market that you’re applying for, also tell the interviewer how you would approach such situations in your new job. For instance, if you always used to work on the client-side in a market but you’re switching to the vendor side, you can give the interviewer insights into how you know what clients are looking for. Point out the advantages of your previous jobs and how you can transfer your knowledge and skills into a new job.
Explain to the interviewer that you possess the needed skills through examples and that you’re willing to learn and acquire the ones you have to develop. Also, it’s important that you show enthusiasm and that you desire to learn and gain new skills.
Red flags for the interviewer
- If your answers or example situations indicate that you’re not one hundred percent sure that this is the right career move, this is considered a red flag. Maintain a positive and confident attitude throughout the interview and prepare enough examples to convince the interviewer that you can do the job.
- If your answers indicate that you’re not open-minded or open to new experiences these are considered red flags as well. This is because employees who rather stick to what they know are less likely to adapt well to changing environments. Generally, they are less likely to look for non-traditional approaches as well, which is required to tackle non-traditional challenges.
- If you show signs of being hesitant towards the unknown, this can be considered as a red flag. Make sure to have logical and genuine responses to questions that show that you have already committed to the change in careers. Also, demonstrate to the interviewer how you will contribute to the team, the company, and mission through your transferable skills and resourcefulness.
Frequently asked job interview questions about changing careers
Below you can find commonly asked interview questions that are asked during a career change interview:
Why do you want to change careers?
As stated earlier, you will undoubtedly get asked this question. Make sure you have solid answers ready that emphasize that you want this new career. Also, demonstrate that you fully understand what this new job, and career entails.
Approach the interview with a positive attitude and avoid badmouthing previous employers or bosses. The interviewer can also ask this question in different ways, for instance, ‘why do you want to leave your job?‘
You’re changing careers, how can you be certain that you will enjoy this new position and that you will be motivated to perform well in it?
It’s important that your answer shows that you have put serious thought into your career change. Your goal is to come across confident, motivated, and sure about your decision. The way you answer this question might be a dealbreaker if you’re unable to demonstrate your suitability.
Is there any assurance you can give that you are qualified to perform well in this position?
Because you’re a career changer, this might look like a tricky question to answer. Focus on highlighting your most relevant work experience that is related to the skills required for the job that you’re applying for. Discuss what important similarities there are between your previous work and this new job that you intend to land — the more specific your proof that you can succeed in the job position, the better.
What other companies are you interviewing with?
If this question comes up, the best thing you can do is say that you would like to keep their names private and that you would do the same for them if another interviewer asks this question. You should, however, be prepared to talk about the types of companies and jobs you’re interviewing for. In an ideal situation, you show the interviewer that you’re applying for multiple jobs in the same industry. Your goal is to demonstrate that their job opening is exactly the position that you’re looking for.
How long did it take you to discover what kind of work you really enjoy doing? How come?
This is one of the harder questions to answer because sometimes it’s hard to explain certain decisions. Walk the interviewer through your career in a concise and to-the-point way and tell them how your decision came about. Below you can find a short example answer. Remember you need to tailor your answer to your specific situation in order to make the right impression!
‘As I got more experienced in the industry, I got to know myself better. I came to the consideration of how I fit into career A better than what I have been doing. My previous work has been great preparation for what I plan to do with the rest of my career. The skills that I have developed are well transferable into this position, and I feel like this is a great opportunity for me. For instance, [insert an example situation of a skill that you have used in your previous work that is related to the job that you’re applying for]. Career A has steadily drawn my attention for over a couple of years and to prepare myself for this career change I have intensively worked on [insert how you have prepared for your switch, what education/training did you do, any volunteering work, internship, extend your network, etc.]. Also, I assume that you have invited me for this interview through the recognition of my crossover skills and I think it’s positive that you did not screen me out because of my prior work experience.’
What makes you qualified for this position? What makes you think you can succeed?
This is another question that requires you to bring up your skills and how they match to the ones required for the job. You need to demonstrate that you’re qualified for the position through example situations that you have encountered in the past. Focus on examples that show that you can succeed in the new position. Below you can find an example answer but make sure to tailor your answers to your specific situation.
‘Personally, I feel that I’m ready for another stage in my career that brings a new challenge. I want to continue my growth as a professional and learn more in this specific field. By taking on new tasks that I have not had the opportunity in my current career, I want to make this a reality. I have noticed that this company faces [discuss a specific challenge of the company]. The skills that I have developed over the past few years can add value to the team by [insert how you can help the team/company]. I have a couple of ideas on how to approach and implement a solution to these challenges [discuss example solutions here]’.
What do you know about our company?
This is a frequently asked interview question in general. However, you should definitely expect this question in an interview about changing careers. To give a solid answer, your task is to thoroughly research the company prior to your interview. Find out who the key players are in the company, such as the CEO. What markets are they in and what products/services do they sell? When and where are they founded? Where are they located? What does their typical customer/client look like?
Why should we take the risk of hiring you?
This question might come across as intimidating, but the interviewer is actually genuinely interested in why you think the company should take a risk on you in this situation. The interviewer is trying to assess your strengths and confidence level. Also, to perform well in a new environment, it’s important that you have the right attitude towards work and yourself.
There is no real ‘right’ answer to this question, but you need to make sure to have something prepared.
What’s your dream job?
Questions such as these are difficult to answer, especially in a situation in which you’re changing careers. Discuss how you have been pursuing this new career and why it makes it such an attractive job for you. Basically, you do not have to state that this is your dream job. However, you can discuss the specific elements that your dream job would include. Think of elements such as flexibility, leadership, development and growth opportunities, etc. Make sure to talk about how the job you’re applying for offers some of those elements.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
As a career changer, you should focus on explaining why you want to switch and that you’re there for the long run. If the interviewer gets the idea that you’re not sure about your decision and the job might not fit you, you probably won’t get invited to a second interview. Company’s spend a lot of time and resources on finding the right candidates, and if you do not plan on staying with the company for a certain amount of time, you cannot add the needed value. Therefore, make sure to provide a clear and to-the-point plan on how you see yourself in the next years and how you plan on developing yourself. Tailor your answer to the company and requirements of the position that you’re applying to in order to convince the interviewer of your suitability.
How to answer job interview questions about a career change
There are a couple of things you should focus on when you discuss your change in careers. Make sure to include (some of) the following elements in your answers:
- Show that you can adjust your style of working if needed. Discuss your communication skills and how you approach changing situations, tasks, different coworkers/people, teams, and work demands.
- Demonstrate that your skills allow you to adjust to a new situation and that you have done this before.
- Show that you can adjust your activities and attitude in order to work as effectively as possible in new work environments.
- Always say that you are willing to try new approaches to changes situations and environments. If possible, give an example of how you did so in the past.
- Positivity is key. Convey your stories to-the-point and in a positive way to convince the interviewer of your suitability.
General elements to consider when structuring your answer:
- Give the interviewer an answer in the form of a ‘story.’ Walk them through your work experience, what related challenges you faced, and how you approach them. Also, discuss the actions you took and what the outcome of your actions was. Make sure to emphasize the skills and abilities that you picked up that you can use in the new role that you’re applying for.
- Structure your story logically. Use the STAR interview technique to do this. STAR is an acronym that stands for a situation (S), your task (T) in that situation, the actions (A) you took, and what results (R) you got based on your actions. Below the STAR technique is described in more detail.
- Highlight how you approached the situation and how you used your skills to successfully manage. This might sound logical, but it’s important that you focus on demonstrating that you’re the right person for the job. Therefore, provide the interviewer with an answer that includes information that he or she needs. In this case, they want to know why you want to change careers, and why do you think your skills make you the right candidate for the job.
- Display the skills and abilities that are needed for the job you’re applying for and that the interviewer wants to see. Make sure you match your qualifications to the job and skills as mentioned in the job description.
- Be honest. Interviewers will notice if you make a story up. Also, they will ask follow-up questions to go more in-depth into the situation you provide them with. Make sure to prepare several example situations that show the interviewer that you are fit for the job.
STAR Interview Technique
Behavioral job interview questions are best answered by providing example situations according to the STAR method. This way, you can give interviewers exactly what they are looking for. Also, it allows you to provide a concise and to the point answer about how you approached situations in the past while highlighting your achievements. Below the STAR acronym is broken down into each step.
When you give your answer to the interviewer, start by setting the stage. Provide context around the situation you were facing. Also, make sure to provide relevant details.
After you describe the situation, talk about your specific responsibilities and what your role was. It’s important that the interviewer gets an understanding of your task.
Then, talk about the actions you took to resolve the challenges you were facing. Provide the interviewer with a step by step description of what actions you took.
Finally, talk about the outcomes of your actions. Also, provide the interviewer with information about what you learned from the situation. Make sure to focus on positive results and positive learning experiences.