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How to Spot Top Talent Among Career Changers and Make the Best Hire

Posted by
Dave Anderson
December 9, 2022

Sense recently surveyed 1,000+ candidates to learn about their motivations for changing jobs and their experiences with hiring companies. One of the more compelling findings was that 76% of candidates are looking to move into entirely new careers or industries. 

For a long time, many recruiters would steer away from candidates attempting to break into a new career, and would instead focus on talent with the specific skills and experience required for the role. However, as hiring has gotten more competitive, savvy recruiters are expanding their focus and considering candidates who have a lot to offer, even if they’re not a perfect fit on paper.

Recruiting these “career changers” takes a slightly different approach and a different set of interview questions — but it’s worth the extra effort. In this blog post, you’ll learn everything you need to know to identify career changers with the potential to make a difference in your organization.

Discover career changers who are right for the job

Being open to a career changer doesn’t mean considering every candidate who applies. It requires a keen understanding of the role you’re hiring for and the ability to identify outside-the-box candidates who can grow into the position if hired. Let’s explore some tips and strategies for discovering career changers who are a good fit for the job.

Have a conversation about why they’re changing careers

Instead of a typical screening call, you’ll need to focus the initial conversation with the candidate on their motivations for changing careers. We’ll provide specific questions you can ask in the next section but the goal is to learn if they’re truly prepared to make a change and understand the responsibilities they’ll take on. 

Move forward with candidates who have done their research and put in the work to prepare for their new career while screening out candidates who applied on a whim or have unrealistic expectations for the job.

Look for transferable skills

As you converse with the candidate, strive to connect their previous work experience with the role you’re hiring for. Ideally, there will be some crossover (which is likely why they believe your role makes sense for them). Ask them what transferable skills they have and encourage them to make case for how each one aligns with the role. Let the candidate do the talking and make their pitch for why you should take a chance on them. 

Focus on soft skills 

The hard skills required for many roles can be taught but it’s often the soft skills that set top performers apart from everyone else. In your conversation with the career changer, be on the lookout for the personality traits that will position them to succeed as they get up to speed in their new career. Some of them will come across naturally in the conversation and others you’ll need to learn about by asking questions. 

Tip: Ask the hiring manager about desirable soft skills and craft a series of situational and behavioral interview questions that will help each come to light. 

Be candid about gaps in their skill set

By the end of your conversation with the career changer, you’ll have a strong grasp of what skills they have and what ones they still need to develop. Conclude the conversation by candidly sharing the skills they still lack and asking what they plan to do to learn them. They should be in alignment with you and have a strategy and timeline for how they’ll learn everything they need to know to be 100% qualified for their new career. 

Sell them to the hiring manager

The hardest part of hiring a career changer is getting the hiring manager to take a chance on someone with no track record of success in the role. Instead of simply sending over the candidate’s resume, schedule some time to “sell” them on the unconventional candidate you’ve found. Here are a few tips for convincing the hiring manager to interview the career changer:

  • Start by sharing why you’re considering a career changer in the first place (e.g., there is a shortage of candidates with experience).
  • Present the transferable skills and soft skills the candidate has and the work they’ve done to prepare for their new career. Paint a picture of how they can succeed if hired.
  • Point to examples of top performers in your organization who have come from other professionals and industries (you can even share examples of employees who excelled after changing departments/teams within your organization).
  • Remind them that novice employees are often more open to direction, training, and following established processes than those with years of experience (assuming that’s important to the hiring manager). 

Interview questions to ask career changers

If you're seriously considering hiring a career changer, it's important to ask the right questions during the interview process or your initial screening call with the candidate. The following interview questions will help you assess their qualifications and skills, while also giving you insight into their motivations, goals, and potential fit within your organization:

Why are you interested in transitioning to this profession?

Learn what is motivating them to make a change and if they have realistic expectations for what the job entails.

How long have you been considering transitioning to this profession?

Ensure they’ve fully thought through changing to their new career and the journey they’ll have to take to become qualified.  

What have you done to prepare for your career change?

Discover if they have taken classes, read books, or done anything else to learn the required skills for the role. 

What skills, experience, and personality traits do you have that will help you in this profession?

Set them up to share the relevant transferable skills and soft skills they have that make them a fit for the job.

What challenges will you need to overcome to excel in this role and how will you do so?

Find out if they have a clear understanding of the gaps in their skillset and a plan for completing their transition to their new career.

What’s your long-term career plan?

Discover if they plan to stick with their new profession and continue to learn, grow, and advance their career. 

What do you know about our company, customers, and industry?

Beyond role-specific skills, learn what they know about your organization overall. 

What do you believe makes you the best candidate for this position?

This is a nice way of asking “why should we take a chance on you?” and gives the candidate the opportunity to make their final statement at the end of the interview.

What will you need from your manager and our company to succeed?

Understand how you can prepare them for success if you decide to hire them. After all, career changers need support, training, and mentorship as they settle into their new profession.

Be open to career changers

A great career-changer candidate has the right mix of transferable skills from their previous career and soft skills. All in all, considering career changers is a great way to expand your hiring funnel and connect with great talent. If you want to learn more helpful tips and insights for accomplishing your hiring goals, check out our “Definitive Guide to Talent Engagement.”

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