Writing a cover letter for a career change can be tricky, since you're basically asking your potential employer to take a leap of faith. Use your cover letter to talk up your universal appeal rather than job-specific skills. Examples might include excellent communication and leadership skills, problem-solving abilities and a willingness to learn.
Get It Out In the Open
As soon as your potential employer reads your resume, she’ll see that you don’t have experience in the position you’re seeking. To avoid looking like a novice -- or as if you’re trying to pull a fast one -- be up front about your situation. Use the beginning of your cover letter to explain why you’ve decided to switch careers.
Even though you’re new to the industry, perhaps you gained valuable skills and experience in your old career that will help you succeed in your new one. Brainstorm about the traits needed for the career you want, and cross-reference that list with the useful traits you’ve acquired from the career you had. For example, if you’re switching from retail to graphic design, discuss your ability to assess client needs. If you’re moving from social work to teaching, talk about how well you’re able to disseminate information to a wide variety of people. Also talk up unpaid experiences you might have had that relate to the job you’re seeking, such as college courses, volunteer opportunities, workshops and internships.
Willing to Learn
Who knows? Your future employer may overlook your lack of knowledge if you supplement it with a fierce desire to learn. Emphasize your willingness to train; and say that you love challenges, and that you thrive on innovation and change. Put a positive spin on it -- say that your newbie status might be a plus for the company, since you’ll be empty of preconceived notions and easily adaptable.
Do Your Homework
Research exactly what kind of person the employer is looking for, and provide examples to illustrate that you have what it takes. Perhaps the sales position you’re seeking requires someone with an outgoing personality and attention to detail; a customer service position might require excellent listening and problem-solving skills, compassion and patience. Though you’re lacking in experience, you might have exactly the right personality traits for the job.
Oubria Tronshaw specializes in topics related to parenting and business. She received a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing from the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Chicago State University. She currently teaches English at Harper Community College in the Chicago area.