Q: I’m changing careers. Should I address that in my cover letter when I apply for positions in my new field?
Changing from one career to another is very common – U.S. workers report having 12 or more jobs in their lifetime, and a career change survey from online education platform EdX found that nearly one-third of U.S. workers have completely changed their career field since graduating from college.
If you’re a student gaining a new degree or credential at Oregon State and hope to take your career in a new direction when you graduate, you’re probably wondering: should I bring my career change up in my cover letter?
A: Yes! Just make sure to give it a positive spin.
A common mistake that people make when talking about career changes is to use their cover letter to explain all the reasons they decided to leave a previous field or industry.
Rather than talking about all the things that didn’t work out in a previous career, focus instead on the positives – the transferable skills you gained in your prior roles.
You can also talk about the inspiration/passion that drew you into your new field, then focus on what you offer the employer.
The difference is subtle, but one is focused on the negatives of the past and the bumps in your road – the other is focused on the employer and why you are so excited to work for them and in this field.
Sure, we all want to be the person who walks into every room confidently, wearing a stylish outfit and smiling a perfect smile. But what if you’re actually the person who walks into the room, gets nervous, feels awkward, and doesn’t quite know what to say?
Here’s the secret: all of us are the second person sometimes, and if making conversation with new people tends to leave you feeling flustered, try these tips to help you navigate events like a pro – while still being your authentic self.
Plan your day in advance.
You don’t have to visit every table at the fair to consider it a success! Look at the event page online to see a list of employers before you come, and decide which companies you want to talk to (whatever feels like a do-able number to you).
Tip: Once you get to the fair, check in with the event staff and take an info booklet – it will tell you where each company is located in the event space, and you can plan your route to to the tables you’re interested in.
Plan your script, too.
Rehearsing things in your mind will help to avoid that frozen feeling that happens when you open your mouth and don’t know what to say! Practice a 30-second “elevator pitch” about yourself:
Start with a quick introduction:
Hi, my name is _____, and I’m currently completing a degree in _____ at Oregon State University. I am interested in (a career/an internship/getting some information) in the _____ field/industry.
You can leave it at that, or add a little more detail. Mention an experience (a job, a class project, a club) that you’ve learned from.
I have worked _____ with _____ and discovered that I really enjoy _____.
Then turn the conversion back to the other person!
Could you tell me more about _____ ?
I’m interested to learn more about (Name of Company.)
If you want to keep the conversation rolling:
Tell me about what it is like to work for your organization.
What does a typical day look like for new team members at your organization?
What are some of the biggest projects your organization is working on right now?
Remember, this is your chance to interview the employers, just as much as it is their chance to learn about you!
If you’re ready to exit the conversation:
You have given me a lot to think about, thank you!
I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me! I will follow up with you if I have any questions.
Thank you for the information, have a great day.
Thank you, do you have a business card that I can take with me?
Don’t be afraid to eavesdrop.
If you’re walking around the fair but feeling nervous about approaching anyone, listen to what other people are saying. If someone near you has a great line, use it! If an employer is having a conversation with a different student, feel free to stand nearby, smile and nod, and look at the information on their table. You might learn just by listening whether this company is for you! You can also bring a notebook and take a few notes – it will make you look involved, and will help you remember later on if there are jobs you wanted to apply for or companies you want to email.
You can also just browse.
It’s totally fine to approach a career fair as an information-gathering expedition. Companies will have informational brochures, business cards, and small free giveaway items on their tables. Take information and freebies from as many companies as you want – that’s what it’s there for! If anything seems interesting, email the representative later:
I gathered some information from your table at the Oregon State University Career Fair this week, and I’d love to know more about the ____ position mentioned.
Recruiters will be delighted to receive after-the-event followup!
After the fair, it’s time for self-care.
You just took the time to invest in your own future. Now congratulate yourself! Whether it’s going out for a celebratory coffee with a friend or relaxing at home to watch your favorite show, make sure to leave time after the fair to do something that will help you decompress after a busy event.
You went to the career fair…now what?
Ready to keep moving on your career journey? Here are three ways to follow up after a career fair.
Can an online search really lead to landing an internship?
Oregon State student Adam Henderson found that if you’re searching in the right places, it actually can.
Adam, a finance major, already had solid work experience and a foundation of coursework from the OSU School of Business when he began thinking about internships during his junior year. In the past, he had worked in retail, at The Home Depot near his hometown of Sammamish, Wash.
But as he pictured his options for the summer going into his senior year of college, he was hoping for something more directly related to his goal of a career in finance – and something that would allow him to stay closer to the connections he’d formed while in school.
“I was trying to get ahead, and I knew I wanted to stay in Corvallis if I could,” Adam said. “So I went on Handshake and started looking up job offers and internship offers in the Corvallis area.”
Handshake, a job and internship site designed for college students and recent graduates, allows students to personalize their job search experience, setting up custom filters for job types, locations, and roles they’re interested in. Handshake job postings are vetted for legitimacy before they’re made visible to students.
As Adam browsed through the Handshake listings that met his criteria, a position with State Farm Insurance caught his eye – it was local to Corvallis, it would give him relevant business and sales experience, and it was with a company he trusted.
“I have State Farm insurance,” he said. “I feel like it’s a very reputable company. So I thought, why not give it a shot?”
His application caught the eye of Jim Kuhlman, an independent State Farm insurance agent in Corvallis. After the application, Adam was invited for a phone interview, followed by an aptitude test and in-person meeting with Jim, where he was offered an internship with the agency.
Six months in, Adam’s summer internship has been extended into the school year, and he’s still glad he gave it a shot.
“I’ve really enjoyed it and I’ve had pretty good success,” Adam said. “I’ve learned a lot about myself and how much potential I have.”
His internship involves everything from shadowing the sales team to working on marketing projects and meeting with customers. Through what he learned in his position with State Farm, he was even able to complete required state testing and is now officially licensed to sell insurance.
Now mid-way through his senior year, Adam is keeping his options open when it comes to jobs – he enjoys his work in insurance, but is also interested in careers in finance. Regardless of where his career takes him, he can already see skills he’ll take with him from his internship.
“The whole aspect of creating value is something we talk about a lot. When you’re selling insurance, a lot of times customers only think, ‘What’s the cost?’ You can break that down and go through it with them, but it’s really the value that sells the customer,” he said.
“That overlaps into a lot of other jobs. When you create value for someone , they’re more likely to trust you and want to work with you. Learning to create and display the best value you can bring to someone is definitely something I’ll take away.”
Handshake internship search tips
There are thousands of positions posted on Handshake — here’s how to narrow down your options to find the internship or job that’s right for you!
Use Handshake’s custom filters. Narrowing jobs by “location” (the cities you want to work in) and “job type” (part-time, full-time, internship) will help you key in on relevant opportunities.
Use keywords. If you’re interested in any job that’s somehow related to “marketing” or “sustainability” but aren’t picky about the specific job title, do a keyword search on your filtered jobs. Handshake’s keyword search will search all text in job titles and job descriptions to find matches.
Save jobs that catch your eye. When you hit “save” on a job posting, Handshake will automatically start showing you similar jobs next time you log in. It will also send you reminders about deadlines for jobs you’ve saved.
Finding a job after graduation is a looming concern for most students in their final year of college. But for Minah Kim (’22), an international student, there was an added layer of pressure.
“Because I am an international student, the process of getting a job and being secure to live in the US is so complicated compared to domestic students,” Minah said. “If I didn’t have a job by the time I graduated, I might have to fly back home.”
Minah, who is originally from South Korea, had lived in Oregon since the age of 14, first attending an international high school in southern Oregon, then Umpqua Community College, where she discovered a passion for psychology. She then transferred to Oregon State, drawn by the opportunities within the School of Psychological Science to gain a degree that would allow her to further her dream career – impacting the lives of children in need. By her final year at OSU, she had spent nearly half her life in the U.S.
“I built a close community here,” Minah said. “I am more comfortable here, more accepted here. I wanted to continue living in the U.S., wherever I ended up. My life is here.”
“She also helped me with reformatting my resume and explaining how it should look, which really helped. And she helped me through practice interview questions. She sat down with me and helped me figure out word by word what I would say.”
Armed with new tools and resources, Minah felt much more confident tackling her job search, even with a looming deadline.
Eager to have a job lined up before graduation, Minah began applying for jobs months before her graduation date – which didn’t always line up with the needs of the companies she was applying with.
“The hardest part of finding a job was the timing. I like to have things planned, I like to know what’s coming up, and I wanted to have the security so I could be at peace,” Minah said. “But if a company is interviewing you now, they want people now.”
Although she participated in multiple interviews over the course of her senior year, as graduation approached, she still didn’t have a job lined up. She did her best not to get discouraged, instead using each interview as a learning experience.
“Doing so many interviews, it provided me the time and opportunity to be more confident in the setting,” Minah said. “Your sentences become more fluent. They ask you similar questions. You learn to be more comfortable with yourself as well.”
Despite working to maintain a positive attitude, by the end of her last term, Minah was getting worried.
“I just kept thinking about how if I don’t have a job, I don’t know where I am going to be living,” she said. “It was a constant battle of waiting, working on my resume, and practicing interview questions. I’m doing all this, but at the end of the day I still don’t have a job. It was really hard to battle with that thought.”
The day of her last final exam at OSU, Minah was busy, frustrated, and stressed – she was studying, she was waiting to hear back about apartment possibilities, and she was preparing to welcome her parents, who were flying in the next day from South Korea for her graduation. And she was doing her best not to worry about the unknowns in her future.
Turns out, her worries were about to be over. That very day, she got the news she’d been waiting for.
“That was one of the most amazing days. That last day I got my apartment, I got my job, and finished my last final!” she said. “It was pretty overwhelming, but it actually did work out. On the last day, it worked out.”
Minah is now working as an early childhood educator with Family Building Blocks, an Oregon non-profit dedicated to providing preventative services at no cost to families facing overwhelming life circumstances. Minah works directly with young children and also builds relationships with parents, providing them with help and support. It’s exactly what she wanted: a career that allows her to help children and to stay near the life she’s built in Oregon.
Minah’s advice to other Oregon State students feeling pressure to find a job? Don’t give up, and take advantage of the career support at OSU.
“Use the resources you have as a student,” Minah said. “We pay for it! We might as well use it! Use the people here who can help you clean up your resume, don’t pay some random website to do it. OSU faculty are the best. I never met anyone who just does the job because it’s their job. They actually want to follow up with you and make sure you succeed.”
When Isabel attended a spring career fair at Oregon State University a few months before graduation, the political science major made a point not to limit herself when it came to networking. With a B.A. in Political Science, focusing on International Affairs, and a minor in Spanish, Nieman was confident she could bring value to a variety of organizations – it was just a matter of making the right connections.
“I treated the event as if I was interviewing the companies present, rather than have them interview me,” she said. “Also, conversing with all companies, no matter what they may have been looking for, was important, because you never know what opportunities might arise or what connections you can make.”
Nieman’s tenacity paid off. She walked away from the event with contacts at State Farm, Trex Co, and the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) who were all interested in hiring her.
Aaron Riojas, the San Francisco-based U.S. Army Corps of Engineers talent specialist who attended Oregon State’s spring career fair, was initially looking for engineering students, not liberal arts majors. But when Isabel struck up a conversation with him about a shared experience (she’s from the Bay Area, and was familiar with the neighborhood where the USACE building is located), it led to further discussion about how her experience in international affairs might be useful to the Corps of Engineers.
“You never know what opportunities might arise or what connections you might make.”
What did you do post high school, prior to becoming an OSU student?
I had a lifelong dream of becoming a professional skateboarder. After 20+ years of pursuing that dream, my first pro model was released by my favorite skateboard company (The Killing Floor Skateboards) in spring 2021.
Like most skateboarders, I have always worked random jobs while working on skate video projects in my free time.
I was a custodian/housekeeper for about six years, I worked in warehouses, restaurants, retail and rideshares. I dreaded having to work minimum wage jobs forever and decided to try out some college courses in 2017.
How did you find your way from skateboarding to studying geology?
My friend Jasmin, who works in environmental consulting, encouraged me to take a geology course at Portland Community College in 2018. My first geology professor, Dr. Lalo Guerrero, completed his PhD at OSU. His enthusiasm for CEOAS converted me into becoming a Beaver.
At the lab, I am working on an experiment using broadband seismometers under the guidance of Dr. Robert Anthony and Dr. Adam Ringler. We are investigating how increasing the depth of a borehole seismometer attenuates unwanted noise in seismic data, which often comes form things like wind, anthropogenic activity, and variation in temperature and barometric pressure. I will be presenting our results at the American Geophysical Union meeting in December 2022, and will be finishing up my degree from OSU remotely from Albuquerque while continuing the internship.
“The work challenges me on a daily basis, but I am learning a ton and I have very patient and supportive mentors.”
Josh Love, Oregon State geology student
How did you land your internship?
Toward the end of winter 2022 the Career Development Center hosted a panel of government scientists where they discussed how to get a job with the government, along with what it is like to work in government positions.
I have applied to many student trainee internships with the USGS prior to attending that panel and my application was always rejected before getting passed up to the hiring manager.
This time, I applied some of the advice that I received in that discussion about how to adjust my CV and cover letter, and later that week I applied to this internship. I ended up getting an interview and was offered the position.
What other experiences helped you successfully get the job?
Aside from the information that I received while attending the panel discussion, I believe two other things were important for getting this internship:
I stated very specific goals that I have in mind for graduate school in my application, and discussed how the skills I would learn at ASL would be valuable for graduate school.
I have been working on an undergraduate research project at OSU with Dr. Jessica Creveling. We are investigating marine terraces in Newport, Oregon.
I do not come from an academic family or community, and Dr. Creveling has been incredibly encouraging and helpful when I need advice (along with many others, such as her entire lab group, Gabe Gordon, Emily Cahoon, and Andrew Meigs). I would not have received this internship position had she not given me such valuable research experience at OSU, as well as the confidence in myself to pursue things that are outside of my comfort zone.
What’s next for you?
What I plan to do with my geology degree has varied throughout my undergrad, but working for the USGS at some point has always been at the top of my list. I am interested in tectonics and active faulting. I would like to research fault systems in order to contribute to Probablistic Seismic Hazard Analyses, ideally for a government agency.
I plan to begin grad school in fall 2023 to continue working toward this goal.
Resources for landing a government job or internship
Interested in pursuing a government job or internship? OSU’s Career Development Center can help you tailor your application materials to successfully apply to opportunities with state and federal agencies.
“Getting a Dam Job” is OSU’s signature career workshop series, designed to equip students with the skills they need to find jobs and internships. Topics vary each term, and workshops on getting government jobs are offered each year.
When Marty Marrs started thinking about changing careers, she knew one thing: this time, she wanted to do something that mattered to her.
Marty graduated from Oregon State in June 2022 with a B.S. in natural resources. Prior to that, she spent 18 years raising a family, which she loved, and also working in administrative jobs, which she wasn’t as passionate about.
That’s where Oregon State came in.
A web search led Marty, who was living in Georgia, to the B.S. in Natural Resources program, delivered online through OSU Ecampus in partnership with the College of Forestry (CoF). But she wasn’t sure how to turn an interest in the natural world into an actual career. A combination of online and in-person resources helped her connect the dots.
She attended a virtual job fair via OSU’s job platform, Handshake, and listened to a presentation from a company that did environmental consulting work. Although she wasn’t yet ready to apply to jobs, her interest was sparked. She used another of OSU’s online tools, Vmock, to review her résumé. Based on the feedback she received, she realized she needed additional help.
So Marty made an appointment with Britt Hoskins, the career advisor for students in CoF.
“Britt helped me completely redesign my résumé ,” Marty said. “She took the time to talk to me, to find out where I did have experience, and she taught me how to put that in a résumé form. She showed me how to incorporate my OSU classes, and the projects I did in my classes, to build up my résumé.”
That wasn’t the only piece of career advice Marty took action on. After listening to a session from Britt on informational interviews, Marty took the initiative to request an informational interview with a company whose work seemed to align with her interests.
“I had never even heard of an informational interview before, but I reached out to this company, and said, ‘Hey, can I just talk to someone and get more information about what you do?’ Through that process, I learned that consulting was something I really am interested in,” she said.
Meanwhile, she continued to take a full load of classes through OSU Ecampus and also moved cross-country from Georgia to Oregon, to be closer to her daughter and closer to more companies in the environmental consulting field.
As graduation approached in 2022, Marty began to pay even more attention to jobs and companies she was interested in. When she saw a position open up with Environmental Resources Management, a sustainability consultancy in Portland, she was interested but apprehensive.
“I had that typical concern, where I thought, ‘Oh, I can’t check all the boxes for all the qualifications, so I don’t know if this is going to work.’ But I applied anyway,” she said.
Again acting on her OSU career advisor’s advice, Marty took two additional proactive steps: she tailored her cover letter to the position and she networked in advance of her interview.
“One of the things I learned working with Britt is that the cover letter is your chance to explain everything to the employer,” she said. “I really just laid it all out there – this is why I’m here, this is what I’ve been doing, and this is what I can bring to the table.”
She also scoured LinkedIn for potential connections at ERM, and found one – an acquaintance she’d made through mountain biking who was happy to chat with her about working at the company.
The big news
Marty went through two rounds of interviews with the company. Even with all the networking, research, and preparation she’d done, graduation was looming and Marty still wasn’t sure whether she would land the job – until she got the news she’d been dreaming of.
“Oh my gosh!” Marty said. “I followed Britt’s steps, I did everything she said to do, and I got a job offer four weeks before graduating!”
Marty now works in what she describes as her “dream job” – a position that makes a difference. She’s an Impact Assessment Scientist with ERM, studying the ways that natural resources and human dimensions intersect in the environment.