How to quickly switch sectors or industries

Career Switch

By choice, chance or job loss, many individuals move from one sector to another (e.g. public sector to non-profit), or from one industry to another, (e.g. construction to accounting).  Here are 5 ways to make your switch easier and faster:

1. Identify your target sector and some key organizations that represent the largest or best employers in that sector…then start talking to people in that sector and/or companies.  Find out as much as you can about the main levers that push and pull that sector through our economy.  Why does it exist? What do the key players do in it?  What are the main business models that allow them to operate successfully?  What are the key trends and issues in that sector?  Ask for advice, tips and tricks on breaking into your targeted sector.

2. Align your accomplishments, strengths and preferences with what you learn about that sector.   Think strategically about how to leverage your skills into that sector—which skills are transferrable?  Don’t forget about soft skills — like leadership, communication, and teamwork.  Then ask yourself the following question:  What do I want in this sector AND why?  Transition is not easy so you need to be motivated and determined to make the change to another sector.

3.  Step back from your emotions and look at your situation objectively.  In my experience, this is where individuals need the most help because they don’t feel confident about their chances—they focus on their inadequacies and fear of rejection, instead of focusing on transition as a project, like any other project that can be completed given the right strategies and tactics.  For example,  given your age, education, and experience, what are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to achieving this goal in a reasonable timeframe?   What time, money, and energy from you is required to make the shift? For example, are you missing any hard skills or credentials for that sector?  If so, plan to acquire them through further education and budget the necessary time, energy and money for re-training.  Remember, you’ve already got lots of experience so find economical ways of building on what you already know and do.  Start with a few quick steps—what can you do now in the next 2 weeks to move this project forward?

4. Use your ‘goodwill’ network.  Most of the people you already know will not work in the sector that you are targeting.  But your current contacts—the people who like, trust, and respect you—are likely to have surprising connections across industries and will be more than happy to help you in your job search.  Make it easy for them to do so:  “Here’s the sector I’m targeting, here’s some leading organizations in that sector that I’d like to work for, and here are some job titles in that sector that seem to best match my combination of previous work experience and training.  Now, do you know anyone I can talk to?” Use professional social networks online, like LinkedIn to identify mutual connections and ask for warm introductions to the people who matter. Do the same offline by looking for venues where these kind of fish swim, such as local chapters of professional associations, and attend some meetings with the goal of asking Qs like those listed above in #1.

5. Communicate to others in a clear, concise and coherent manner.  Ask questions first, listen to answers, then be prepared to discuss how your background lends itself to success in your chosen sector.  Highlight previous achievements that give a picture of you in action solving challenges or issues relevant to this sector, so that others can see how your knowledge and skills are transferable to the needs and priorities in their organization.  This is how you build rapport with people, how you get introductions to hiring managers, and how to generate invitations to interview and, eventually, job offers! 

It’s not about you selling yourself…it’s about you tapping into the needs and priorities of decision-makers in your targeted sectors.

Individuals change sectors or industries all the time, so there’s no reason that you can’t do so too. 

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