Written by Sharon Lee
So you're thinking of changing industries. I'm not going to lie, changing industries can be a tough task. Especially if you are already pretty established in your current career. I've met a lot of people who have wanted to jump the ladder but haven't been able to make that leap because 1) they're afraid that they'll have to start from the very bottom, 2) feel that they're too old to start all over and don't want to be a 30 something year old working with people who are 10 years their junior, 3) are concerned about taking a substantial pay cut, or 4) are concerned that they don't have the necessary education, skills or know the right people. Do you fit into one of these categories? Here are the 3 essential tools you'll need to help you make the switch with a leg up.
1. Find good recruiters or network with people in the industry. A good recruiter is an undervalued and underused tool. These days, there's a recruiter for almost every industry and a quick google search or even a request on Facebook for any referrals to friends in the industry or a recruiter can get you started with a few people. Connecting with someone who is familiar with the industry is essential because not only can they give you advice on what employers are looking for, but they are privy to job openings before they've hit the general public. A friend of a friend of a friend may have heard that someone is looking to fill a position and can connect you with the employer, or a recruiter whose job it is to find these non-public positions may have just the opening you need. Another reason why a recruiter in particular is key is because they can edit your resume to help you tailor it to fit the needs of the industry. This is essential because you will need to organize your resume in a way that highlights the strengths and skills that align with those that are sought after in your new industry. The recruiter will also be able to help you draft cover letters that illustrate your work experience in a way that shows how your past can benefit their future. Also, it's often the case where employers are looking for someone who comes from a different background to compliment the work of those who have been in that industry. In other words, there is a niche that isn't getting filled and your fresh perspective coupled with your unique skills may fit the bill. But you wouldn't know it unless someone who is in the industry talks you through it.
2. Take stock of your strengths, skills and experience and then plug them in. I hear this all the time - "but I don't have any experience in fashion" or "I've only drafted expense reports, I have no idea how that could be useful in marketing" or "I work in customer service, how could I work in business development?" You have so much more to offer than you realize, even in a completely different industry doing completely different work. Don't discount the experience you've already built - it is an advantage if you know how to use it as one. If you don't know where to start, sit down for a few minutes and take stock of all your strengths, skills and experiences. Go on, list them out. Think about what you do everyday, or the special projects you've work on. Whose job do you make easier, what is the goal of your current position, what purpose do you serve at your company and what strengths do you have that are being used/under utilized at your current position that you know are valuable? After you have your list, start looking for jobs in your new industry. Carefully study job descriptions. Then start to plug in your strengths, skills and experience to fit that job. Did you know that a job in marketing requires you to sometimes know the rules of that industry to make sure you are in compliance with regulations and laws? If you work in compliance or law and want a job in marketing, that's a great match. Did you know that a key part of working in business development is knowing your audience, finding the problems, figuring out what they want, and then proposing plans to resolve and build on those things? A customer service rep may be just what someone in business development is looking for. If you aren't sure of your strengths, read my post on How to Find your Strengths and Use them to Change your Life. I firmly believe that if you know your strengths and have the language to articulate what they are, you're able to strategize with your employer or interviewer to show how you can benefit their company.
3. Have a good story. This is especially true if you have a gap in employment. But in general, everyone needs a good story because as you start meeting recruiters, people in the industry or go on interviews, everyone will want to know why you want to make the switch. Don't come off apologetic or regretful about your past experience or choices - they are an asset. Your story has led you to where you are now and if you learn how to honor the power of your story where you come out the hero, you can easily draw a beautiful picture of what led you to changing industries and why you believe switching is the right move for you. This last bit is important because people want to help/hire people they get along with and a good story makes you an interesting person (everyone is an interesting person). In the legal field, a standard when interviewing candidates is "after I've worked 14 hours straight for the 5th time in a row and have an overwhelming amount of work on my plate, do I really want to be working next to this person at 2am?" That's pretty much 75% personality and you can show your personality by how you tell your story. A good and comprehensive story also gives fuel and power to your intention and purpose. People want to know that your switch is intentional and purposeful, not something you just fell into. The great thing about people who want to change industries is that they seekers who are looking to satisfy something. Put this in your story, it gives people confidence in your ambition.
Bonus! If you want to switch careers into a field that is a department in your current company (say if you're in IT and you want to work in sales), ask someone in that department out for coffee or for a quick meeting, and chat with them about what they do. They can tell you about the good and the bad, the skills required, the gaps in the market, etc. Read my post on How Informational Interviews can Change your Journey to see how setting up a quick meeting can give you what you need to get started with your switch.
The reality is, switching industries can be tough. You may have to work your way up - a small sacrifice to get the job you want. Some jobs require you to pay your dues and learn the ropes. But the 3 tips above can help you get a good start by leveraging what you've already worked for so far. Good luck! Let me know if you have any other tips or questions in the comments below.