What career-changers can offer any business – and how to attract them

Employers struggling to find the skills they require would be wise to trawl this largely overlooked pool of high-potential talent. But that may entail ditching some conventional recruitment wisdom.

Woman at desk considering career change

The UK recruitment market is widely expected to loosen further in H2 2023, but labour shortages remain a significant concern for employers, with the number of vacancies still exceeding historic levels. 

Of the British firms surveyed for the World Economic Forum’s 2023 Future of Jobs Report, 40% predicted that they would find it harder to obtain all the skilled people they were likely to need over the next five years.

Given that the war for talent is clearly far from over, recruiters would be well advised to spread their nets as widely as possible. Those that target people seeking a change of career could gain a crucial competitive advantage.

That’s the view of Kiera Harper, director of technical qualifications and essential skills on the government’s Skills for Life programme.

“Career-changers will often bring transferable skills, knowledge and practices that can encourage fresh perspectives in a business and result in more efficient and considered ways of working,” she says. 

Such qualities are especially important given the rapid changes occurring in certain occupations, notes Khyati Sundaram, CEO of Applied, a platform applying behavioural science to recruitment. 

“Some jobs will disappear, some will appear magically and some will change,” she says. “By learning lots of different skills, career-changers can be more resilient. They bring informational and behavioural diversity.”

Yet many employers overlook such qualities, often viewing the need to give career-changers industry-specific training as a barrier to hiring them. 

How to tap into your own firm’s potential career-changers

Employers should first look within their organisations for potential career-changers. By understanding its existing employees’ aspirations and offering them opportunities in other departments, a company can retain valued people who might otherwise leave for a rival firm that is prepared to help them fulfil their ambitions. 

Whenever we advertise a role, we’ll only ever include essential criteria because we want the ad to be as inclusive as possible

Beth Whittaker, chief HR officer of Veolia’s northern European operations, recognises the advantages of integrating employees’ career interests into the company’s workforce planning. Her team has created fields on the HR system where people can indicate whether they would be interested in a cross-functional move.

“Before we advertise a role, we’ll always look at our succession plans and talent maps to see whether we have internal candidates with the potential to do that job,” Whittaker says. “We’ve had loads of great examples over the years where that has worked really well, benefiting both the business and the individuals concerned.”

Why it pays to make recruitment ads less prescriptive 

The wording of job adverts is important in reassuring potential career-changers, who may be unsure about taking the leap, that their applications will be welcomed and taken seriously. 

Veolia’s job ads include the following statement: “If you don’t meet all of our outlined requirements, we’d still love for you to apply. If you feel that you’d be a great fit for this role and Veolia, we’d like to find out more about you.”

Removing irrelevant criteria can also help. For instance, is it necessary to require three years of experience for an entry-level position as a web designer? Or is expertise in an outdated system beneficial when the company is about to replace it? 

“Whenever we advertise a role, we’ll only ever include essential criteria because we want the ad to be as inclusive as possible,” Whittaker says. 

She warns that, if you were to place an ad mentioning skills that aren’t crucial to the job, “you’d receive CVs that look exactly the same from people with the same background and the same experience. You’re just going to perpetuate this cycle of never doing anything differently.”

How to identify relevant skills in the selection process

When looking externally, firms can also use workforce planning tools to gain a broader view of the skills requirements of a vacant role. Focusing on the emerging needs of that job rather than seeking a like-for-like replacement helps recruiting managers to place less emphasis on candidates’ experience in the occupation concerned as a selection criterion. 

Incorporating situational questions and tests into the sifting stage can help to build a more accurate picture of a candidate’s qualities and establish early on whether they’re likely to be a good fit for the role. Later in the selection process, numeracy and cognitive ability assessments can determine whether they have skills that will be needed in the job. 

“The aim should always be to test for role-relevant skills from the outset,” Sundaram says. “This approach enables career-changers to showcase transferable skills and helps employers to find the best candidates, irrespective of their experience.” 

Take advantage of existing training programmes 

Harper notes that, when it comes to preparing career-changers for their new occupation, “apprenticeships and other further education programmes, such as higher technical qualifications and skills bootcamps, are a useful way to onboard them”. 

Lloyds Banking Group is one company that helps career-changers in this way. Through the government’s Skills for Life scheme, it provides skills bootcamps enabling it to draw from a wider pool of talent, including people who may have been working in other industries for many years. 

Kathryn Marshall, senior apprenticeships manager at the bank, reports that one of its aims in providing a recent bootcamp teaching software engineering skills was to “dial up the number of women working in the tech space. We are really pleased that some of the people who attended it have since joined our level-four apprenticeship programme and are absolutely flourishing in it.” 

Targeting, engaging and developing both internal and external career-changers can be a powerful and cost-effective way to expand the skills of an organisation that may otherwise struggle to attract all the talent it needs. This won’t necessarily require an overhaul of all recruitment procedures or a substantial investment in training. 

Ensuring that job ads and selection processes focus on candidates’ skills rather than their industry experience can help any employer build a workforce that’s better equipped to help it handle whatever challenges come its way. And, particularly in times of great uncertainty, an employer that’s seen to be resilient, adaptable and open-minded is likely to become more attractive to all potential recruits, career-changers or otherwise.