Written By Lee E. Miller, Lecturer, M.S. in Human Capital Management
In these difficult times, many talented people will need to (or even if they don't need to, should) change industries or change careers. People will tell you that you can't do that and many people who you interview with will not even really consider you because you don't have industry experience. Industry experience is valuable for the business knowledge and even the personal network it brings. But while industry experience is useful, a lack of industry experience is not a disqualifier. As an experienced corporate professional, trainer, and executive coach in a range of industries, I often quote Henry Ford when forecasting a job seeker's likelihood of successfully changing industries or careers: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right."
I spoke with a friend this morning about how she successfully made the transition from retail to insurance; she told me that actually making the transition was not difficult, but getting the job was. She said that 95% of people believe that their industry is unique. It turns out, however, that they are wrong; a good salesperson, marketer, Human Capital Management executive or project manager can learn an industry in a short amount of time if they know how to listen to people and zero in on what they need to know.
The key to getting the job is to identify the 5% of hiring managers who know that talent, demonstrable expertise, and perseverance trump experience in a specific industry."
The key to getting the job is to identify the 5% of hiring managers who know that talent, demonstrable expertise, and perseverance trump experience in a specific industry. Then focus on something they need that you do extremely well. Don't waste your time with the 95% and don't let them discourage you. They were never going to hire you anyway. Use your contacts to network your way to that 5%, do your homework about their company and the industry, and be prepared to sell your accomplishments with confidence.
Once you get the job, learning what you need to know will be a lot easier than you think. But make no mistake: every company is different and every industry is different. Whether you're switching jobs within an industry or jumping into a new industry altogether, you will need to learn the people, dynamics, and how things are really done. These are the nuances that can lead to longevity in your career and help you beyond the confines of a particular organization or field. Nevertheless, keep some perspective; ultimately, sales are sales, marketing is marketing, and Human Capital Management is Human Capital Management, no matter where you work. And they're actually critical functions across industries.
Whether you're switching jobs within an industry or jumping into a new industry altogether, you will need to learn the people, dynamics, and how things are really done. These are the nuances that can lead to longevity in your career."
So look to change industries with confidence in yourself and your skills: network your way to the right 5% of hiring managers, convince them that they won't regret it if they give you a chance, be persistent (without being annoying), and then get ready to hit the ground running when you finally get an opportunity to start your new career. Remember, you only need one job offer.