Transitioning To A New Industry

One of the toughest challenges for job seekers is transitioning from one industry to another (e.g., from retail to banking), or from one role type to another (e.g., from marketing to information technology).  Job seekers attempting to make the transition express frustration, anger, hurt, and hopelessness.

I’ve been lucky to make transitions across industries and roles.  I started out in education, transitioned to banking, then healthcare, then consulting, and finally back to healthcare.  My roles have included teacher, commercial lender, chief of staff, mergers and acquisitions, strategist, consultant, and talent development.  I’ve given a lot of thought about what made me successful and attribute my success to two factors:

  1. Adopting a mindset of learning a foreign language
  2. Solving a specific problem

If you’ve tried to learn a foreign language, you know how difficult it can be.  Memorizing vocabulary, learning to conjugate verbs, and reciting numbers, days of the week, and common phrases in halting speech.  You must invest a significant amount of time and energy, get expert guidance, and practice to become proficient.  The same is true with finding a job in a new industry.  But it can be done.  If I can do it, so can you.  Below are three keys to success.

Use Formal Learning to Increase Your Business Acumen

Guidance from an expert in the target industry is your first step.  You need to network with people who can help you understand the industry, and identify the experiences, knowledge, skills, and education hiring managers seek.

Where do you find these experts?  Ask friends if they know someone who works in your target industry.  Use LinkedIn to connect with affinity groups.  Contact your high school or college alumni office to get names of people.  Watch YouTube videos, or comb company websites.  You get the idea, identifying someone who can mentor you is the first step.  Once people agree to meet with you, you are looking to develop business acumen as quickly as possible.  Get answers to the following questions to get started:

  • Who are the key players or market leaders in this industry?
  • How do companies make money or what are the main components of their business model?
  • What types of people and skills are in demand?

Before applying for a job or setting up networking interviews, spend time with a mentor so you know how to “speak the language” of the new industry.  Every industry has its own language, acronyms, gurus, mythology, etc.  If you are not aware of it, you won’t be let into to club.  You don’t have to know everything, but it signals to hiring managers – You Are One of Us!

Practice Speaking and Hearing the New Language

The next step is seeing experts in action talking about your target industry or role.  Luckily, the internet and social media make this easy.  These platforms connect you to YouTube videos, podcasts, blogs, TED Talks, Tic Tok, and other sources.  Your job is to listen for common approaches or “schools of thought.”  After a while you will recognize the patterns in strategy (what they focus on and why it is important), business model (how they deliver value to customers), and structure (how they organize to get work done).

Go back to your mentors and practice speaking for 15 to 20 minutes on a current industry topic.  The goal is to provide your perspective and ideas.  Then get feedback from your mentor.  What key trends or points did you miss?  Do you sound like an “insider”?  If not, what do you need to do differently or better?

Solve a Specific Problem

The final step is to solve a specific problem for the hiring manager.  This is critical to your success.  If the manager is looking for general talent and not trying to solve a specific problem, then you will not be hired.  Why?  Because the open position will be filled by someone with direct experience doing the job.  When transitioning industries, there are always more qualified people – ON PAPER.  I estimate that 80 percent of open positions fit this profile.

You are looking for the 20 percent of opportunities where the manager is frustrated with his or her inability to sole a specific problem.  Alternatively, they could be upgrading staff to prepare for a new or different future.  This is the environment necessary for them to take a chance on someone from another industry or with an unusual background.  When this describes the situation, get the job by communicating why your experience, knowledge and skills are the perfect mix to address the problem.

Bottom Line

Put in the extra work upfront to lean the new language of your target industry or role.  Practice speaking until you sound confident and comfortable.  Then solve a specific problem to get the job.

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