Making a career change as a new American

Due to the competitive job market in the United States, some new Americans may seek a job in a field that’s different from the one they had in their native country. Making a career change in a new country can be challenging but it can also introduce you to new people and new languages that will help you grow personally and professionally. 

While you may not have traditional job experience in the new role you are considering, there are still opportunities to leverage the soft skills and transferable skills you do have into a rewarding new career. Here are some tips to help make a successful career transition in the United States. 

Set a goal

There are many job opportunities available in the United States. It’s easy to apply to all the open positions with the hope that just one employer will take a chance on you. But that will not set you up for success in the United States. Understanding what type of career will make you feel satisfied and fulfilled will put you on the path to career advancement.

Before you start applying, take the time to reflect on your past experiences, the industry you want to work in, and the skills you want to gain. If you don’t have defined career goals, determine what you want to accomplish in the long and short term. For example, if you have a goal to make a certain amount of money, you may want to focus on industries and positions that will get you closer to that goal. If there is an industry or position you’d like to transition into, research career training opportunities to help bolster your resume. 

Highlight your soft skills

Soft skills are non-technical skills that relate to how you work. They include how you interact with colleagues, solve problems, and how you manage your work. These skills are the easiest skills to transfer from role to role and industry to industry. Examples of soft skills are:

  • Problem-solving skills — You can solve issues quickly and efficiently. 
  • Emotional intelligence — The ability to gauge and manage your own emotions and build professional relationships. It influences how well you will interact with your colleagues and how will you manage stress and conflict.
  • Leadership skills — Leadership skills are skills you use when organizing other people to reach a shared goal. Good leaders increase employee engagement, support a positive environment, and help remove obstacles for their team.
  • Strong work ethics — An attitude an employee applies to their work that indicates a high level of passion for any work they do including arriving at work on time, completing tasks on schedule, and staying focused and organized. 
  • Teamwork — Even if you prefer to work alone, it is crucial that you appreciate and understand the value of working together and collaborating to accomplish the company’s objectives. 
  • Communication skills — Good communication involves listening and observing as well as talking. Employees with strong communication skills can mitigate a problem before it becomes a crisis.
  • Adaptability — Adaptability in the workplace means being flexible and able to change in order to become successful. You can manage unusual circumstances where there are no explicit instructions and have the confidence to make difficult decisions. As a newcomer to the United States, you have already proven your ability to adapt to new and uncertain situations. 

The fact that you have a diverse background can add value to a US-based organization. Your willingness to live and work in a new country shows that you can adapt, be resilient, be open-minded, and view things from a different perspective. These are valuable skills for any new employee. 

Show the numbers

American employers appreciate seeing the numbers and data to back up your experience. Rather than simply listing out the duties you were responsible for in your past position, it is recommended to also highlight the results you achieved from your work. When switching industries, prospective employers may be more interested in the quantitative results than the process you followed. 

Providing quantitative data on your resume is an effective way to emphasize your accomplishments in previous roles. In a competitive job market, it is important to make sure that you are giving yourself every available advantage. To create a list of accomplishments that are quantifiable and measurable, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How much did I make or save the company money? 
  • How much time did it take to reach my goals? 
  • To what degree did I exceed my goals?

Think in terms of money and time. Dollar amounts, timespans, volume, and percentages are all great ways to quantify your accomplishments on a resume. If you are unsure of the exact number or dollar amount, consider using a range, for example, $3,000 – $5,000 or 3 – 5 hours. If your previous experience doesn’t involve dollar amounts, one of the easiest ways to add numbers to your resume is to quantify how frequently you performed a particular task. This is particularly helpful in illustrating your work in high-volume situations. Some examples of quantifying your experience are:

  • Within two months, set up and trained staff of 7 how to use the Jira platform to plan, track, and manage software development programs. 
  • Received two promotions from mid-level manager to director level in less than 18 months. 
  • Implemented a filing system for human resources, organizing more than 300 past and current employee documents. 
  • Increased shipping times by 90% by implementing an automated inventory and ticketing system. 
  • Decreased my packing time from 7 minutes to 3 minutes during my 4-year tenure and won “Employee of the Month” on two occasions.
  • Provided excellent table service to 50 patrons a night by maintaining knowledge of 120+ menu items, including beverages and wines. 
  • Reduced time spent on inventory by 20% by reorganizing the physical storage of supplies.
  • Reduced marketing spending by $35K by learning social media techniques instrumental in promoting company services.

Bridge the gaps

As with any job, it’s important to tailor your resume to match the job you are applying for. While you might not have experience in the new industry, you may need to show the hiring manager how your skills align with the requirements of the job. It could mean omitting on your resume the skills that aren’t applicable in your new industry, such as highly technical skills or specific pieces of software. Refer to the job posting, and if applicable, incorporate some of the words and phrases of the job description into your resume. 

Also, keep in mind that the words you use in your resume should match how your job skills are described in America. For example, the role of an HR manager in Argentina could be different than in the United States. It’s also important to abide by any resume standards and expectations. For example, some countries may prefer a more detailed, two-page resume over a shorter, more concise document in the United States. Your resume needs to reflect not only the job you’re applying for but also the company’s cultural environment.

Understand how the role translates in America

You may encounter similar job titles in the United States, however, you might not realize that the roles can be quite different depending on the country. For example, the role of a Plant Manager in Japan doesn’t match what a Plant Manager does in the United States and the salary could be quite different than what you expect. 

It’s a good idea to find out if any differences exist for you and whether you need to gain some additional skills or qualifications. The website O*NET sponsored by the US Department of Labor maintains a large database of job descriptions with similar job titles and can help provide a starting point in your research. 

Focus on your matched qualifications

Focus on your qualifications that match the job description by putting them first on your resume. You’ll want to draw attention to your experience which makes you an obvious fit for the job even with your less traditional experience. Then take inventory of your skills and abilities. These could be technical skills you are proficient in or soft skills that have helped you succeed. 

If you are unsure that you have any matched qualifications but still feel you are a good fit for the job, think about the times you have won an award or received recognition at work. What skills, talents, or abilities helped you to excel? Drawing this connection for employers can help you write a relevant resume for the job you want. 

Leverage your language

Some employers may be interested in the specialist knowledge you didn’t know you had. Whether or not the position you are applying for requires your language skills, you can still convey the creative ways that your skills can benefit the company’s business goals. Add a language section on your resume that indicates how fluent you are in the languages that you can speak, read, and write in. If the job you are applying for is looking for a bilingual candidate, make sure the language section is located toward the top of your resume.

Your native language can be extremely useful for employers who want to build relationships and expand into new markets. Also, being bilingual can allow you to form a vital part of a company’s growth strategy, whether it is trying to enter new markets on a national level or expand to other countries. And being bilingual is actually proven to make you smarter, as it makes you better at solving complex problems.

Be flexible

When making an international career move, it’s important not to get too fixated on a specific job title or an exact equivalent role in your new country. Employers may be hesitant to hire a candidate who has never worked for an American company. They may want to reduce your risk of failure by advising you to start at a lower position, giving you the best chance at success. By approaching this opportunity with an open mind, it could pay off in the long run. 

To prove yourself in a new market, you may need to make a lateral move or a step backward, especially if your past experience involves managerial experience. Managing American teams is a different cultural experience and you may need time to adjust to the American work environment before you can take on a role managing a team.

Final Thoughts

Remember you should always check whether or not your visa or work permit limits your options for changing your career or even employer. Contact a reputable immigration lawyer or check with your employer or embassy on the legal work requirements in the United States. 

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