Want To Switch Industries? Here’s How

Photo by Ross Findon on UnsplashPhoto by Ross Findon on Unsplash

Callie loved technology and felt fortunate to have a job that engaged her interests by allowing her to teach others how to use digital tools to stay organized and communicate in new ways. She’d been working as a teacher in a high school for nearly a decade, which she initially enjoyed. However, over the last few years, the funding to her department had decreased, leading to layoffs and an inability to afford the computer equipment needed to do her job at a level that made her feel fulfilled. After another year of working long hours to cover for the staff shortage, while unsuccessfully petitioning for more funding, she wondered if there was an opportunity to do similar work in a corporate environment where resources might not be so constrained.

If you’re like Callie and love what you do, but not where you do it, perhaps it’s time to make an industry switch.  Sometimes changing to an organization with a different type of product, service, population or mission can reinvigorate you, while expanding your network and broadening your skills.

If you’re ready to get started, here’s what you need to know to switch to a new industry:

Don’t be industry agnostic. When you decide your current industry is no longer a fit, it’s critical to specifically target a new industry. While Callie recognizes that she would like to move to “corporate,” she needs to research the available options to narrow down a field that she can feel energetic about and invested in. Companies want to hire employees who are motivated to do work that supports the vision of their organization. Hiring Managers will expect to hear a compelling response to “why this company?” in the interview. Your demonstrated commitment to and interest in the industry will be an important part of your response if you want to be considered for the job.

Focus on the future, not the past. Even if part of the reason you’re looking for a new industry is because of negative associations or experiences with your old one, keep this part of the story to yourself. Instead, when networking and interviewing, talk about the reasons why you’re excited to engage your skills in the new industry and how the value you bring will have a positive impact. You’ll always be more successful in a job search when running TO versus running FROM a role.

Understand the stereotypes. The brain remains efficient by categorizing new information into pre-established assumptions. So whether true or not, it’s likely individuals who haven’t worked in your industry have heard the stereotypes that exist, and they’ll tend to focus on the differences rather than the similarities. As a first step, learn about any assumptions that may reflect negatively on your candidacy and be prepared to disprove them with concrete examples. Also, be sure to point out any commonalities in the industry you’re leaving and the one you’re pursuing. It’s easy for a potential employer to overlook these similarities if they’re unfamiliar with your market, so do the work FOR them.

Neutralizing your “red flags.”  While Callie may be a complete rock star in any setting, hirers in corporate may worry about her ability to perform successfully in their culture since academia has a reputation for being very different from corporate. Engage your network to learn about the culture, expectations, customers and processes in your targeted industry so you’re prepared to speak to how your experience and skills will be effective in the new environment. And don’t sell yourself short – there may be ways your unique background gives you an advantage over traditional candidates. For example, Callie’s teaching expertise may give her an edge as a Corporate Technology Trainer since she’s adept with learning models and instructional design.

Use their language. Although many of your skills are likely transferable, sometimes the industry-specific lingo or acronyms used in various settings make these skills seem more different than they actually are. Be mindful when crafting your resume, LinkedIn profile and other tools to use language that is familiar in the industry where you’re going versus the industry you’re leaving. In Callie’s case, she may choose to substitute the word “customers” for “students” or the phrase “learning objectives” for “lesson plans” so that her potential new employer can easily see the overlap in the skill sets. 

Demonstrate your agility. Even if you’re a stellar performer in your current company, hirers will want specific examples of how you’ve successfully demonstrated agility in new environments, so they can feel confident that you’re able to function in places other than your current role. Have you switched industries or functions successfully before? Or maybe you were thrown into an ambiguous role without training or had to lead a project you’d never done previously? A track record of success in tough situations will go a long way in convincing a hiring manager that you can figure out the new environment without a lot of hand holding.

Tap into your network. While your network will be a huge asset in opening the door in any situation, it’ll be particularly valuable when making a career switch. A referral paves the way by providing an endorsement that sets you up favorably. If Callie’s contact relays his confidence in her ability to tackle any new situation with grace and determination, she’ll start her candidacy with a positive first impression, and the interview will be hers to lose. While a referral isn’t a guarantee, you’ll begin with the bias in your favor. This is key since most switchers start out with a bias against them since they’re coming from a non-traditional background.

Consider a stepping stone switch. If you’re targeting big names (e.g., Google, Apple), moving into a competitive industry or switching into an industry that tends to hire from a traditional pool, consider a two-step process where you initially move into a role that’s closer to your ultimate target, and then after two years make your move to your ultimate industry. To figure out the best stepping stones, research where your ultimate target companies hire from, who their key vendors are or the peripheral markets they do business with, and start there. This will give you experience, contacts and credibility, while also moving you closer to your final goal.

If you’ve lost your mojo for your current role, assess whether a change may be the motivator to re-inspire you. An industry switch can be challenging, but with the right preparation and perspective, you’ll make a fulfilling pivot.

Happy hunting!

Reposted from: Forbes.com

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