Expanding Your Job Search to a Different Industry

The deepening recession may have you thinking about the possibility of attempting a move to a complimentary field – or another industry altogether – with more favorable growth potential. However, the prospect of such a transition can seem daunting.

Many people shy away from serious exploration of a career shift because they think their chances of succeeding are slim to none. How can you compete against candidates who already have experience in that field?

It’s not easy, but neither is it impossible.

Here’s what you can do to improve the odds:

On the surface, it may seem like your proficiencies won’t transfer to industry X. Many people mistakenly assume they don’t possess enough of the requisite skills – and that they would never be considered seriously. Dig deeper, though, and you may surprise yourself.

First, comprehensively research the job, the company and the industry you’re pursuing. Once you have a thorough understanding of what they’re all about, parallels to your applicable skills will be easier to identify.

Think “outside the job description” as you consider your competencies. Categorize proficiencies under headers like organizational management, planning and design, coaching and instructing, problem solving, information management, public contact, data analysis….and so on.

Then take categories that are broader in scope and see if you can break them down further. For example, a category like communications could have subsets like public speaking or writing.

Don’t feel you must limit yourself specifically to your salaried job only. You might find that you can augment your list of functional skills with roles you’ve played within professional and civic organizations or volunteer work you’ve done.

If you uncover a prerequisite for your revised “experience kit” that you lack, consider how you might pick up that competency. It doesn’t necessarily require a lengthy time commitment. For example, you might be able to acquire the expertise you need via an intensive training program.

What about your resume? What are you going to do to keep the hiring manager from fixating on company names – and perhaps even job titles – that could sidetrack him?

Focus on the two things about your submission materials that are most crucial: your cover letter, and the top half of the first page of your resume.

The cover is always important, but in this situation, it’s vital – because you can keep this page free of information that might muddy the waters. You have complete control. This is your opportunity to emphasize transferrable skills – your experience, your successes and how they apply – in the most effective context.

One other thing: as an industry outsider, you bring a fresh perspective and diverse competencies to the table. That’s a distinct advantage; keep it in mind as you’re thinking about your pitch and crafting this letter.

As for your resume, even in this situation a functional format is not your best friend. That said, there are adjustments you can make to the standard chronological resume that will give you an assist.

Pay especially close attention to the top half of the first page. Your qualifications statement, always important, is even more critical now. This is your golden opportunity to encapsulate applicable functional skills in context and on message. Make a compelling case.

(You may decide to follow it with a brief keyword summary of your expertise; executed properly, it can be a constructive recap – and influence the hiring manager’s mindset. It’s just as easy to do this poorly, so if you’re unsure, leave it out.)

Next, you can insert a succinct career highlights section rather than jumping right into your work history (remember, we’re on the top half of the first page…at least part of this section needs to appear “above the fold”). This handful of bullet points persuasively demonstrates your successes as they apply to the industry in question and can also be an effective method to establish emphasis…setting the proper context in which to view your employment experience. 

Obviously, you’ll highlight applicable aspects of your employment history and downplay those that aren’t relevant given the circumstances. Choose your words carefully; there may be a way to restate the same point in such a way that it will resonate differently (and more suitably) to better match the context.

Don’t restate achievements you already noted in the career highlights section.

Personal contacts are key when attempting to shift industries. You may not be very well connected in this new sector, which means you may need to strategically build your network. Identify who you need to know, and then figure out how you can meet them. These people can help you research the industry, provide valuable information, and facilitate introductions that may lead to interviews.

The more successful – and visible – you’ve been in your current industry, the better your chances of migrating to another. Capitalize on that recognition and your reputation.