Ace Your Career Change Interview With This Guide

Career change job interviews can be nerve-wracking. But if you plan for one meticulously, do the prep and follow our checklist you will ace it.
Congratulations! If you are reading this guide it is highly likely that you have managed to get yourself a job interview in a new career. In this ultimate guide, we will cover every aspect of the interview in order for you to ace it, including what you need to do before, during, and after the interview.
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All the hard work you did writing your cover letter and resume paid off and you have been selected for a job interview. Now comes the part where you have to give the interview and ace it in order to increase your chances of landing that dream job.

One of the most difficult aspects of establishing yourself in a new career is persuading an interviewer that you made the right decision. 

Prior to scheduling an interview with a potential employer to discuss your career change, it is critical to spend time planning a strategy that will help you figure out how to ace an interview and get the job.

This ultimate guide will focus on four areas that you need to get right to ace your career change interview and these are:

  • Pre-interview preparation
  • Body language during the interview
  • The interview itself (how to explain your career transition)
  • Post-interview follow ups
Download Checklist " 10 Simple Steps to Smooth Job Change"

How to ace a career change interview

The good news about changing careers is that it is not a complete reset of your professional career. Americans as old as 60 plus are considering changing careers. I guess you are never really too old to change a career.

You won't necessarily have to start from the bottom and work your way up again during a career change. In your previous job, you acquired many skills that are industry-neutral, skills that can be applied to any job and in any field.

These transferable skills like interpersonal communication, organizational abilities, time management, conflict resolution, and collaboration, to name a few, are valued by any employer irrespective of the industry. 

These valuable experiences and knowledge acquired during your previous job should be smartly highlighted.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. If you are serious about acing that career change interview there are things that you need to do and steps you need to take way before you show up for the interview.

This guide has been broken down into four parts. The first part focuses on what we just talked about, which is all the things you need to do before the interview. 

The second part is all about body language. With career change, the one thing that everyone will be looking for is to see if you yourself are confident about the decision that you have taken. 

If you master the art of body language, you will firmly answer that query with a resounding yes without even saying a single word!

The third part focuses on the interview, the kind of questions that will be thrown your way, and how you should address them. 

Finally, the fourth and last part of this guide will show you what you need to do after your interview to look professional, and show how serious you are about your new job.

In case you are reading this article for future planning and you are still in the process of figuring out your career change you will find the following two resources helpful in your job search:

  1. 7 Best Books for Changing Careers (Must Reads!)
  2. 6 Best Podcasts for Changing Careers
Man And Woman Doing A Handshake
Photo by Gustavo Fring

1. Pre-interview prep: Doing your homework

Got the pre-interview jitters? If you're worried about the upcoming interview, take a deep breath, grab a pen, and go through this pre-interview preparation checklist. In no time, you'll be feeling a little less worried and a lot more confident.

By the way, if you are stressed about your career change and the uncertainty it brings, read this great guide on how to afford a career change without struggling.

The steps you take leading up to the interview can really make what would otherwise be a stressful experience more enjoyable. 

Sure, you could "wing it" and answer questions as they come in. Nothing, however, will impress an interviewer more than demonstrating that you did your homework. 

It's a good idea to learn to calm your nerves, research the company and analyze your own working habits when preparing for an interview. Here is your pre-interview checklist:

Unmudl your job interview jitters

You are leaving behind everything you have learned in your career to get into a new line of work. Changing careers is stressful enough as it is and then you add the stress of the job interview… all that might make anyone nervous.

Feeling like you're in a pressure cooker of anxiety during your career change interview can have a cumulative effect on your performance because things can quickly deteriorate. 

Here are a few pre-interview prep pointers for remaining calm during a high-stakes job interview and preventing your overactive nerves from taking over:

DO. NOT. WING. IT.

I speak from experience. Every time I have been over-confident and tried to wing it, my job interview has been a disaster. 

Being prepared for the meeting beforehand will not only give you confidence it will get you the desired results. Even if your nerves start to kick in and you blank out, you'll be able to recover quickly and easily with an automatic or "fallback" response if you've done your homework.

Remove all triggers

Make sure there aren't any other "triggers" or stressful situations on the day of your interview. Know where you're going, arrive early, prepare your clothes, eat well, and get a good night's sleep. 

In short, minimize any other types of distractions or real-life problems so that you can focus solely on the interview.

Limit your caffeine intake

Don't consume an excessive amount of caffeine right before a job interview. You may believe that a few cups of coffee will help you focus, but drinking too much will make you appear jittery and anxious.

Your relaxation strategy

Not all relaxation techniques are equally effective for everyone. Deep breathing, power posing, meditation, body scanning, listening to gentle music, and muscle relaxation.

There are so many different ways to calm your nerves. Find one that works for you. If you need a little extra help on the day of your interview, consider downloading a relaxation app. Here are nine good ones to consider.

Make several copies of your resume

Some interviews may require you to meet with multiple members of management, so have one copy handy to refer to as you discuss previous experiences. If possible, print at least five copies of your resume on nice, high-quality paper.

Build a portfolio of your previous work

If the job requires you to show previous work, such as photographs, successful marketing campaigns, graphic designs, or written articles, compile your best work into a single portfolio to share with the hiring team.

Prepare beforehand for typical interview questions

Make a list of common questions so you can start preparing strong responses. Having some general talking points for the most frequently asked interview questions can boost your confidence during the interview.

Even if the interviewer does not ask the exact question you prepared for, they will almost certainly ask something similar. 

For example, instead of asking, "Why should we hire you?" the interviewer might say, "Tell us what makes you stand out from our other candidates."

Here are some of the most frequently asked interview questions:

  • What is your greatest weakness?
  • Tell us something that you disliked about your previous position?
  • Why would you like to work for us? 
  • Why should we employ you?
  • How do you handle a conflict situation with a coworker?
  • What in your opinion are your strengths?
  • Tell me about a time at work when you solved a difficult problem.
  • Why are you quitting your current job?
  • What do you want to be in five years?
  • What is your proudest achievement?
  • What is something your current boss believes you could improve on?
  • What is your management style?
  • What do you hope to accomplish in your first three months here?

A lot of these questions are behavioral job interview questions. They usually start with:

  • Please give me an example of… 
  • Please tell me about a time when…
  • Have you ever thought about…
  • What do you do if…
  • Describe situations in which…

These types of interview questions focus on your previous professional work behavior. 

The reason for asking behavioral job interview questions rather than traditional ones is that your past performance in similar situations is the most accurate predictor of your future performance.

Practice the STAR interview technique

Using the STAR method, provide examples of situations to answer all behavioral job interview questions. You can give interviewers exactly what they want this way. 

It also allows you to provide a concise and to-the-point response about how you handled situations in the past while emphasizing your accomplishments. The STAR acronym is broken down into each step below.

  • Situation: Begin by setting the stage for your response to the interviewer. Give context for the situation you were in. Also, make sure to include pertinent information.
  • Task: After you've described the situation, go over the specific responsibilities and roles you had. It is critical that the interviewer understands your task.
  • Action: Then, discuss the steps you took to overcome the difficulties you were experiencing. Give the interviewer a detailed description of the actions you took.
  • Result: Finally, discuss the outcomes of your actions. Additionally, inform the interviewer of what you learned from the situation. Make an effort to focus on positive outcomes and learning opportunities.

Practice a mock interview

You can now begin planning your responses. Make some notes for each question you come up with, and once you have everything written down, start practicing your responses out loud. Recite responses in front of a mirror. Your goal is to make them clear, concise, and to the point so that you don't ramble during the interview.

Another effective way to hone your interviewing skills is to have mock interviews with a colleague or a friend, who is from the industry. The mock interviewer can provide you with notes on how to improve your answers or go more in-depth on specific questions.

Spend time researching the company

It can be embarrassing to walk into an interview knowing nothing about the company, its history, or who the CEO is. At the very least, you should be familiar with the company's products or services, ownership, customer demographics, and main competitors.

Unmudl Tip: It's also a good idea to look up any recent press releases about the company to stay up to date on its latest developments and to check in on their social media to get a sense of the company's tone, voice, and key initiatives.

Make a list of your greatest hits

The purpose of the interview is to demonstrate your skills and talents in order to land a new job. 

However, when you're nervous, it's easy to overlook some of the impressive projects you've completed or problems you've solved throughout your career. Make a list of your career highlights to share with the interviewer.

Make a list of questions to ask your interviewer

Asking thoughtful questions to the interviewer demonstrates that you've done your research and are enthusiastic about the company. 

The interview is a two-way street. Just as the company wants to ensure that you are a good fit for the job, you should do your homework to ensure that the company and position are a good fit for you.

Needless to say that you shouldn’t ask basic questions like what the company does. This shows you haven't done your homework before coming to the interview.

Here are some questions about the position, the interviewer, the company culture, and the company as a whole:

  • What are the most challenging aspects of this job?
  • What are some of the company's short- and long-term objectives, and how, in your opinion, will the person in this position contribute to achieving those objectives?
  • What is a typical day like in this position?
  • Can you tell me more about the team I'd be working with? What are the team's or department's strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are the training and evaluation procedures for this position?
  • Why is the previous occupant of this position leaving?
  • What do you expect the person who takes this position to accomplish in the first three, six, and one year?
  • What words would you use to describe the working environment here?
  • What happens next in the hiring process?

Online interviews

In-person interviews are increasingly being preceded by phone or video interviews. In some cases, the entire interview process is done online.

Everyone is familiar with the frustration of technical difficulties, a bad connection, dim lighting, or a noisy background can detract from the great impression you're hoping to make during your career change job interview.

With the following remote interview tips, you can ace an interview even from a remote location:

  • Find a background that is clean and uncluttered.
  • Set up a ring light or face a natural light source.
  • Check that your webcam is at eye level.
  • Make an effort to be in a quiet area. If it's a phone interview, make sure you're in a good reception area.
  • Make a video practice run with a friend to ensure everything goes as planned and all systems are working.
Women Sitting on Table with Cups of Coffee and Laptop
Photo by Edmond Dantès

2. Day of the interview - Body language

The first impression you make on the people who are about to hire you happens even before you have spoken a single word. 

How you walk into the room, your facial expression (are you smiling or are you tense), the way you greet the people in the room, and how you finally settle down will say a lot about you. We all use body language, or nonverbal communication, whether we realize it or not. 

All these things communicate what we think and how we feel. And, when it comes to a career change job interview, your body language can make or break the outcome. This is why it is critical that your body language portrays you as a confident, positive, and capable individual. 

Here is your body language checklist. We'll go over some tips to help you control your job interview body language and send the right message.

Dress the part

In general, you should dress in comfortable clothing that makes you feel good. On your favorite interview outfit, repair holes, treat stains, and lint-roll any pet hair.

What you wear to the interview will vary depending on the job and culture of the company. Here is a guide from Purdue University on dressing right for each type of job interview. It’s a smart idea to call your HR lead or recruiter to confirm the dress code. Here are some guidelines based on the company's dress culture:

  • If the company culture is casual:
    Wear dark jeans, slacks, long skirts, or long dresses, button-down shirts, blouses, cardigans, or sweaters, plain tops, and neat closed-toe shoes.
  • If the company culture is business casual:
    Formal attire includes dark suits with slacks or long skirts, dark tailored dresses, a tie with suits, and neat closed-toe shoes.
  • Make sure you arrive on time or preferably early
    Arriving late for an interview can create a negative first impression. Arrive 10 to 20 minutes early to allow for finding the building, parking, and checking in at the front desk. 

    Some businesses provide paid parking garages or valet services. While they may validate your parking ticket, don't count on it. Bring around $20 in cash in case you need to pay for parking.

    Unmudl Tip: Consider traffic — that 9 a.m. interview means you'll be driving during the morning rush hour. If you normally take public transportation, have a backup plan in place, such as biking, walking, or getting a ride from a friend, in case the train or bus is running late that day.

Make an entrance

Your body language can be judged before you even meet with the hiring manager. Consider how you interact with the receptionist and how you may appear while sitting in the lobby. Are you tense and slouching? You never know who is looking. 

To convey calmness and confidence, take some deep breaths and sit in a comfortable, upright position. Always keep a gentle smile on your face.

The same can be said for a video interview. Even if you aren't sitting in a lobby, what the interviewer sees when your video begins will have an impact. Maintain a straight posture and keep your gaze fixed on the camera rather than another screen or your phone.

Unmudl Tip: Turn off or silence your phone. You can't avoid bringing your phone to your interview, but you can minimize distractions by turning it off or putting it on silent mode.

Maintain a tall posture

Hiring managers will be watching how you approach them. Stand tall to help you walk with confidence and purpose. When approaching them, keep your arms at your sides and make eye contact.

Also, make sure you're not juggling too many "things" as you walk over. You could be carrying a resume, a portfolio, a bottle of water, and a purse or bag. Before you start walking, make sure you have everything together in a bag. This gives you a more polished and organized appearance.

Give a warm handshake

Establish your professionalism right away by offering a "just right" handshake. A firm handshake can come across as arrogant, while a soft one can come across as timid or weak.

A good handshake conveys confidence and an attitude of "I'm ready for this." You don't want it to be too strong that it hurts the interviewer's hand, or too soft that it sends the message that you aren't prepared or confident for the interview.

Unmudl Tip: Have you ever had sweaty hands? Apply antiperspirant to your palms the night before to ensure all-day freshness. To quickly evaporate moisture before your interview, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Sit properly

While it is necessary to sit comfortably during the interview, removing your shoes and tucking your legs under you does not convey the desired message. 

Similarly, if you slump or lean back in your chair, the hiring manager may get the impression that you're scared or don't take the job seriously. Sit with your back supported so you can sit up straight. 

To help you maintain the pose without tiring, try leaning forward slightly and keeping both feet flat on the ground. Crossing your legs can be uncomfortable, and it may be difficult to uncross and recross your legs without looking awkward.

Unmudl Tip: avoid tapping your toes or bouncing your knees. While it may be a habit, it appears nervous, which could indicate a lack of confidence in yourself and your abilities. It could also indicate that you're restless and need to get somewhere else.

Maintain eye contact

When you look people in the eyes, you appear attentive and trustworthy, whereas averting your gaze makes you appear shifty or nervous. Just don't stare to the point of making things uncomfortable.

Have several interviewers in the room? Don't pass up this opportunity to show off your team-oriented attitude. Begin by looking at the person who has asked the question. Then, make brief eye contact with others before returning your gaze to the original questioner and finishing your response.

Breathe easy

One area where your nerves can really show is in how you breathe. When you're nervous, your breaths may be short and shallow, causing your speech to be shaky and quiet. Concentrating on your breathing is one way to gain control of your racing heart.

Smile

A smile makes a person more approachable and trustworthy. People are naturally drawn to a happy face in both job interviews and everyday life, and the feel-good chemicals released by smiling will help you stay calm and upbeat.

Interact constantly

Your body language can also help you respond to comments and queries without saying a word. Nod periodically to acknowledge what the interviewer is saying without verbally interrupting them. 

This can help you connect with the hiring manager and stay connected to the interview.

Staring off into the distance with your eyes out of focus or staying frozen in place could send the message that you don’t care about the interview or are even frightened of the job.

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3. Day of the interview - Addressing the elephant in the room

Prospective employers typically inquire about your career change to determine your level of commitment as an employee. Prior to selecting a candidate, a hiring manager wants assurance that investing time and money in hiring or training you will benefit both of you. 

Employers want to invest in candidates who are excited about and capable of developing a long-term career with their company. A hiring manager may inquire about your career change in many different ways:

  • What motivated you to change your career?
  • Tell me more about the factors that prompted you to change careers.
  • What factors make you confident that you'll be happy in your new career?
  • Tell me more about yourself and your career goals.
  • Why do you prefer your new career over your previous one?
  • Tell me about a professional experience that has made you confident in your ability to succeed in this new role.
  • Why are you interested in starting a new career with us?
  • What would be your ideal job?
  • Tell me about your career objectives for the next five years.
  • How long did it take you to figure out what kind of career you want to pursue? Why?

All these questions are basically the same, they are trying to dig deep into the reasons that led you to your decision to change careers.

How should you address your career change?

Your objective is to demonstrate that you have given a lot of thought about your career change, that you had good reasons to change careers, and that you are very serious about this job. Here is your checklist on how to do that:

Discuss your long-term objectives

Explain how your career change decision relates to your long-term career goals. Demonstrate to potential employers that you are seriously considering your professional future. 

Discussing how this specific opportunity or company relates to your long-term career goals can demonstrate to employers that you're interested in growing your career with their company.

What not to say!

What you don't say can be just as, if not more, important than what you do. Here are a few things you should never say, even if they are true:

  • I disliked my previous boss.
  • I disliked my job and desire a better work-life balance.
  • I hated the company culture at my previous company.
  • I was fired.
  • I was laid off.
  • I got bored of being in marketing.
  • I realized I hated being an accountant..
  • I needed a raise, and I wasn't going to get one at my previous job.
  • I was asked to work long hours and left because it wasn't my dream job.

Have you noticed a pattern here? Negativity should be avoided at all costs. We're not suggesting that you lie or stretch the truth. Rather, we encourage you to look for the bright side of why you are making this career change.

Consider everything an opportunity, including being laid off from your current job. What does that opportunity mean to you in terms of your career?

Download Checklist " 10 Simple Steps to Smooth Job Change"

Be upbeat and truthful

Answer the employer's question truthfully, focusing on the benefits of your change. The hiring manager may value your ability to remain motivated and focused in the face of change. 

Here are a few examples of career change interview answers and how to respond to the question honestly while emphasizing the positives: 

  • “Due to unforeseen personal reasons I had to leave my previous position, but that turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it gave me the time to complete my certification for a career in web development.

    You can see how passionate I am about my work from my portfolio even though it is not published.”
  • “Both the children and their grandparents wanted to be closer to each other so we moved to this city. I realized this was a blessing in disguise because I finally found the time to learn and code an idea I had for a simple online RPG.

    I have also been playing games from your studio and I know the many generous opportunities your company provides to fresh coders. This is the perfect opportunity to do what I always wanted to do."
  • “I loved my previous job as an accountant. I loved the people I worked with and the company culture. They offered a lot of job security. But the job was very monotonous and didn’t offer any challenges. There was also no room to express my creativity.

    I started enjoying helping my friend with his graphic design business on the weekends and the appreciation I got for the designs I did for his clients made me realize that this would make me happy and fulfilled.” 

Focus on your newly acquired skills and certifications

You probably have not been sitting idle since the day you decided to change careers. 

By now you have completed a certification or two, acquired new skills that are necessary for the job, and done an internship at a similar position.

When changing careers, these things will make all the difference. 

They will help compensate for your lack of direct experience in the new line of work. Don’t just show people your certificates, share your complete journey since the day you wanted to change careers - talk about the strategy and the action plan you put in place, talk about the milestones you set for yourself (certifications you did and any training you completed).

All these things will demonstrate to your potential employer how serious and committed you are about this job and this is also one of several ways that can help compensate for the lack of direct experience.

If you are looking to get certified for skills required in your new career, we have you covered. Unmudl has a wide range of courses that can help you land that dream job.

Turn your weakness to your advantage

During any job interview there will be candidates with past experience in the same field. Don’t let the fact that you are coming from another industry discourage you. 

Find skills, experiences, and projects from your previous job that will work in your favor and build on that.

For example, if you are applying as a project manager at a construction company you could talk about how you being an electrician for the last 5 years gives you a unique insight into what your team wants and how to keep them motivated to deliver on time and within budget.

Pitch your transferable skills

If you look deep enough there will be at least two to three soft skills from your previous job that might be important for this new job. My old flatmate got into corporate training by focusing sharply on a relevant transferable skill. 

Being a lawyer he had excellent communication skills and he used that to demonstrate how he could build a case for any topic at hand and about it even under high-pressure circumstances and at a short notice.

He got the job despite there being other candidates with corporate training experience. Think of how you can pitch your transferable skills like the ones below:

  • Leadership and management
  • Problem-solving
  • Conflict resolution
  • Working with teams
  • Communication
  • Time management
  • Project planning
  • Commercial awareness

Bring tangible proof

Bring solid evidence of previous work that could transfer well to a new career if possible. A portfolio, writing samples, or letters of recommendation from clients highlighting achievements or milestones in that transferable skill are some good ways to convince people.

Unmudl Tip: It may also be beneficial to include this information in an online portfolio or website so that employers can refer to it later.

Don’t forget to talk about your flexibility

Not everyone handles change well. Companies will only hire someone new to the field if they are confident in their ability to adapt to new workflows, priorities, and responsibilities.

Showcase moments when you've dealt with unexpected changes, such as a new boss, changes in your job description, or even just moments when you've handled problems on the fly during the interview to demonstrate that you're comfortable with change.

Demonstrate your eagerness to learn

Use your interview to demonstrate your eagerness to learn about your new position or industry. You can be honest about not knowing everything about your new industry as long as you are willing to work hard and learn new skills. 

For example, if you were giving an interview for a game developer you could admit that you still have a lot to learn about Unreal Engine 5, but you've done some research and learned to code in two or three languages. 

Show enthusiasm about learning more through workplace collaboration.

4. Post-interview follow up

Just because you've shaken the interviewer(s)' hands and breathed a sigh of relief doesn't mean the interview is over. Of course, you could be called back for a second, third, or fourth interview, but no matter what stage you're at, it's critical to make a good, lasting impression.

Inquire about the next step before you leave

You should inquire about the timeline for the next steps of the hiring process either at the end of your interview or immediately after. This way, you'll know when to expect a response from the company. You may be required to take an edit test, provide additional work samples, or return for another interview.

Make a strong exit as you did with the entrance

Keep your energy up if the interviewer walks you to the exit or lobby. You can use this time to ask general questions or make relevant small talk, whichever feels most natural to you. Even if you're alone, you have to wait for an elevator or walk to a visible location, keep your cool until you're out of sight.

Follow up with a thank you note

Good manners are always appreciated. After the interview, take a few moments to write a thank-you note. This demonstrates that you value their time and the opportunity, and it distinguishes you from those who do not send one.

Consider it a pop-up notification reminding the hiring manager and interviewers that you are interested, available, and grateful.

Complete any take-home assignments as soon as possible

If you are asked to submit a project after the interview, do your best but do it quickly. Turning in an assignment on time demonstrates that you are invested in the hiring process.

If you and another interviewee are both being seriously considered for the job, submitting quality work with a quick turnaround time may help you stand out as the best candidate.

Follow up on any unanswered questions from the interview

If you were unable to answer a question on the spot, remember to follow through on your promise to provide an answer after the interview. 

It's tempting to assume they'll forget about it, and they might, but following up shows that you gave the question the attention it deserves and gives you another chance to remind them of your interest.

Asking for an update

If the interviewer stated that they would contact you at a specific time, don't be afraid to send a gentle reminder. This does not make you appear desperate, as you may fear. Rather, it portrays you as a candidate who is very interested in the position.

Final thoughts

If you're changing careers, you're probably doing so for a variety of reasons. However, it is critical that you can articulate your reasons during a career change job interview. 

A career change can have a significant impact on your professional life, and it necessitates extensive planning. Before going to your job interview, spend some time planning a strategy to persuade the interviewer that you're making the right career choice.

In this ultimate guide, we took you through every stage of the career change job interview process. We looked at what you need to do before the interview, How your body language should be, how to talk about and justify your career change and finally we even talked about what to do after your interview.

We hope this guide helps you ace that interview and you land the job of your dreams. All the best from all of us here at Unmudl!

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I explain change in career in interview?

What motivates you where you want to go next in your career?

How do I prepare for a career change interview?

Are you on the fence about changing jobs or a complete career change?

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