As an interviewer, what is the appropriate way to address a candidate's change of career. For example, a software engineer with a CV containing relevant experience and in the "other" section, points out the he/she is a qualified dentist.

On the one hand, perhaps this shouldn't affect the interview. On the other, it's hard to just ignore it.

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    Try thinking less like a professional robot and more like the interested human you are - just ask why the massive career change! They're likely prepared for such a question anyway and it's a pretty obvious point to talk about off a resume. Just ask :-)
    – James
    Jun 7, 2015 at 12:42

5 Answers 5


How to approach candidate's career change during interview

Focus on the part of the candidate's background that is relevant to the job you are offering.

If the candidate is fully qualified for the current position, then it shouldn't matter what she/he did in a past career. You can express interest, but it shouldn't distract you from the business of interviewing for the current position.

That said, if the past career seems like something the candidate wants to do as soon as there is an opening, then you may sense that he/she will leave soon. That's something to dig in and attempt to determine.

I'm in Software QA. When I have a candidate that was a Developer, but wants to be in QA now, I need to determine if this is indeed a permanent career shift, or just a thought of "I'll do QA until a Developer position comes along". I ask a lot of questions to try and discern for myself which is the case.

I've also interviewed a candidate for a Development position who prominently had Acting on his resume. I hired him after I determined that the acting was now a hobby, and that aspirations of a full-time acting career were safely in the past.

  • Also, it's interesting to talk about what skills they learned in their previous career that help them in their new career. I've found folks that have hybrid professional backgrounds tend to bring a unique perspective to challenges.
    – ColleenV
    Nov 21, 2015 at 16:29

As an interviewer, you have the right to ask questions about anything that's on a resume. If you make a judgement call that you should ask about someone's experience as a dentist, then ask.

If someone has unusual experience on their resume, I'd ask them what is it about their unusual experience that's transferable to what they are doing or what they want to do. The back story could be fascinating.

Om a side note, I participated in a dental hackathon last year and I had the misfortune of having my head handed back to me by a duo that was comprised of a pretty Asian dentist and her Caucasian software engineer boyfriend - the boyfriend was as nice a person as he was talented as a software engineer. Unfortunately for me, he was a VERY nice person :) So, being a dentist is not necessarily irrelevant to software engineering.


As an interviewer, what is the appropriate way to address a candidate's change of career.

Depending on the position being interviewed and the particular career change, you may, or may not need to address thi

For example, a software engineer with a CV containing relevant experience and in the "other" section, points out the he/she is a qualified dentist.

So what, is this a red flag? On the other hand, it can possibly show that the candidate is opening to learning different things. At the end of the day, knowledge from different disciplines is inter-related.

On the one hand, perhaps this shouldn't affect the interview. On the other, it's hard to just ignore it.

It seems to trouble you? There is nothing wrong in asking about the career change. You can even ask the candidate how you think the previous career will help with the current position, i.e. dentists have different thought-process than software engineers, and perhaps this different thought process will help the team.


The timing is relevant here.

If the job he's applying for represents a career change -- he's been a dentist all this time and now he's applying for a software-development position -- then most interviewers would dig into that. (I have, though it's never been as severe as dentist->programmer.) I find it's better to focus on the attractors -- "why software development?" as opposed to "what's wrong with dentistry?". You'll probably get the latter along the way, but since you wouldn't ask the question at all if he'd just left it off his resume, your interviewing will be more consistent (and fair, should that come up) if you focus on the job you're hiring for. See also the cautions in this answer; assuming you're hiring for the long-term, you want to do what you can to determine that the candidate is not just biding his time. Along the way you might be able to ask about transferable skills, but it's really up to the candidate to make the case that his years of dentistry gave him valuable skills in planning or management or whatever.

On the other hand, if the career change was some time ago -- he started out as a dentist, then switched to software development along the way, and now here he is interviewing with you -- then it's probably not that important. Chat about it if you like (anything on a resume is fair game), but remember that the purpose of the interview is to determine how the person will fit with the job you have open, so if it won't help you with that, give it a lower priority than the other questions you'll be spending time on. If you hire him you'll have ample opportunities to hear about his adventures in dentistry later. (So why did he include it on his resume? Quite possibly to explain a gap.)

If it's on the resume you may ask about it, but you are in no way obligated. In an interview it's best to focus on questions that help you answer the question "should we hire this person?". If asking about the unusual background helps, ask. If it's just a curiosity, save it for when you're chatting more casually.


As an interviewer, do not assume the person will go back to the old career. Also do not offer the person a job in the old career if you see they applied to the new career and have completed a 2nd college degree to attain the new career goal. Some interviewers really can not get past the differences. I got that a lot when attempting to switch from being a lab technician to an HR Manager. Aside from not using lab equipment anymore the jobs are NOT that different. There is still a lot of documentation. I still have to work within my team and with other teams. I interview people now, well guess what? I used to interview the new technicians. I still do training. There are some different responsibilities but really the only huge difference is no more having to stand all day or do shift work. Now I actually get to make decisions. When I was first trying to break into the new career, interviewers treated me like I was trying to do something impossible. How could a science person understand HR? I was even hired for a job and then the company changed my role to my old career within a few weeks of hiring me as a bait and switch. I told them I did not complete 3 more years of school to go back to working weird hours in a manufacturing plant and promptly quit when they would not change me back to what I was hired for.

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