Thinking of changing industries? What hurdles will you face? What perceptions will hiring managers have of you? What should you do to present your best case? These are the questions you should ask yourself before changing industries.
American workers frequently change jobs, going to new companies for better opportunities, more benefits, and greater stability. Within that scope of change, workers also change industries. Workers change to other industries for a variety of reasons, both positive and negative, such as re-energizing a career or to leaving a dying industry.
What if you love what you do, but you just want to slightly change direction? Keeping your job function while changing industries can seem simple, yet in fact, it can be filled with many obstacles. Here are some examples of job seekers with whom I have worked who took mini-steps in their career, however, made dramatic changes in their career industry or environment:
• An executive working for a high tech company wishing to move into management in the nonprofit sector
• An environmental engineer in the public sector who wishes to move into high tech sector using his/her skills
• A HR representative who has been in the retail world who wishes to enter HR in the biotech world
• A teacher who wishes to conduct training in private industry.
All of these individuals reached their goals through a variety of job search strategies. Most importantly, they all created the perception that they had what it took to perform their duties in a new industry.
Mary Meunier, HR specialist, emphasizes this key point: "Don't be hung up on job titles." As she points out, some people have similar roles, but different job titles. She also states that in order to make a successful industry transition one needs to focus on skills, accomplishments, and stress measurable goals and achievements.
Bill Schaeffer, author of High-Tech Careers for Low-Tech People (Ten Speed Press), explains how the high tech culture is different from other industries. He identifies the importance of understanding the uniqueness of a particular industry. Here is what he states are the distinguishing characteristics of the high tech world:
• Emphasis on risk-taking
• Importance of brain-power
• Informality and egalitarianism
• Frenzied pace of work
• Hands-off management style
• Continual learning and re-learning
• Career self-reliance
• Informal styles of communication.
His explanation of what comprises the high tech industry can be applied to every industry. In other words, every industry has a unique work pace, a unique management style, values certain worker traits and behaviors. They also might have a particular style of communication, and a particular organizational structure.
Jim McDonald, HR manager of URS Corporation, whose career in Human Resources has spanned various industries from construction, high tech, defense, research, and insurance, makes a key point of changing industries: "You must have 'something as a bridge'." The bridge can be contacts or content, according to McDonald. There must be portability to the new industry. McDonald advises career candidates to immerse oneself in the industry. "You have to know the business - in other words, the inner makings of what makes that industry special."
Robin Holt, Founding Principal of the Bay Area Career Center, who works with numerous career changers, believes the critical part of an industry switch comes in the job search process. "You need to get in touch with your skills. Know need to know how to package yourself." She is emphatic that you need to present well the skills that you have honed and developed. And most importantly, put your best foot forward to prospective employer. Show how you will add value to their present business?
Some strategies to consider in order to change industries:
• Go where the action is - talk with professionals in the industry of your choice.
• Conduct informational interviews with these professionals and learn how they made the transition
• Attend regional conferences to get a sense of buzzwords, growing trends, vendors that serve these various industries. Every industry has a large conference showcasing speakers, vendors and products.
• Read local and national publications about your targeted industry.
• Know who the top performers are in the field and why. It is amazing the numerous number of niche markets out there.
• Take any classes so that you can that demonstrate working knowledge of the industry (such as community college courses, extension courses, certificate programs, and workshops).
• Network with individuals you know in your chosen industry.
• Participate as a volunteer for an association that will get you results in one of their key areas (speakers, memberships, hosting). This will get you an entrée to meet people in the field.
• Use a staffing service as a means of being visible to a new industry.
• Re-format your resume to and state and highlight your industry preference, as well as all of your transferable skills.
• Communicate your knowledge of the industry, as well all of your transferable skills and how you can impact the company through your achievements.
Changing industries is an interactive process - looking at yourself inwardly (your skills, interests, motivators as well as figuring out how you fit in this new, growing, dynamic industry.