Changing industries can open up a broader range of opportunities for executives who want to reinvigorate a stalled career, seek to combine their skills and interests in a new arena, are stuck in a dying/declining sector, have limited options in their desired geographic location, or are impacted by the increased outsourcing of operations overseas. According to a study by the New York-based Association of Executive Search Consultants, nearly 50% of the executives surveyed are searching for brighter horizons by considering an industry change.
Although product and industry knowledge are important to some companies in certain industries, it is possible to make a successful industry transition through a focused, systematic process-without having to reduce your compensation level. Unless a position requires industry-specific technical knowledge or contacts, you can build a clear case that will illustrate your ability to succeed in a new industry. In fact, some employers relax their search criteria as hiring picks up, opening up the door to industry transitions.
The secret is to move to a related field. The closer you stay to your industry, the greater the probability of obtaining a comparable salary because there is a shorter ramp-up period for learning the new business. Such factors as the complexity of the business, number of product lines and customer groups, culture and size of an organization, and similarity in marketing or manufacturing methods also play a role in how readily you can transfer your skill set to a new environment.
If the thought of marketing yourself to an industry in which you do not have expertise seems daunting, here’s how to gain the confidence you need and avoid vital mistakes in your search.
The following six steps can guide you to make an industry change happen more effectively and with fewer roadblocks.
1. Choose a sector that is aligned to your current industry. Your transition will be easier if you choose an industry with a similar focus to your current industry. For example: if you are in the transportation industry, moving from the railroads sector to trucking and freight, airlines, shipping or air courier services, would be a more closely aligned transition. If you are in finance, related sectors include commercial banks, insurance companies, savings and loans, or government insurance. If you are in health care, closely aligned areas include drugs and pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, outpatient care companies, packaging and container companies supplying the health care industry, and manufacturers of electronic instruments for health care equipment.
Therefore, recruiters or hiring authorities will consider your abilities more closely aligned and many of the business issues you’ve solved will be similar to those experienced in the new industry. Because you will have a shorter learning curve than candidates from completely different industries, you will have more of an edge in salary negotiations, as well.
2. Select a high-growth industry. Industries that are flailing are not going to be as viable as an industry that is experiencing growth. In downward turning industries, there’s an abundance of unemployed executives with industry experience to choose from, so your chances of getting the attention of a hiring executive are slim. However, high-growth industries are generally more open to change and fresh ideas, and are in greater need of candidates than large corporations.
3. Conduct extensive research on potential new industries and specific employers. Don’t attempt a search to enter a new industry without performing due diligence first. Utilize the extensive resources available to you on the Internet, in your public library’s reference department, by reading trade/industry publications and by talking with professionals to learn about their industry and future trends. Immerse yourself in the new industry. Attend professional conferences and seminars. The more you understand about the new industry, the more confident you will be and the more capable you will be of accomplishing the next vital step on this list (identifying your transferable skills).
4. Identify your transferable skills and create your unique selling proposition. Once you understand the inner workings and trends within the new industry you have chosen, you will have a better understanding of the challenges and needs faced by that sector. Determine the particular skills that are required-again through your research and by talking to industry professionals. Ask probing questions to learn what the critical things are that you will have to do well. Are those the skills that you know how to do? If not, what’s missing and is it something you can readily develop?
As an executive, you possess a number of core competencies that can cross over to new industries and organizations-strategic planning, operations management, business development, marketing, selling, financial planning and analysis, profit and loss management, people management and so forth. Review your career with a focused eye to identify relevant skills and accomplishments you’ve made that you could also potentially achieve in your new industry.
5. Write a focused resume and cover letter directed toward your new target industry. Focus on those related success stories and skills in both your resume and during interviews. When writing your resume, downplay your current industry and jargon associated with your specialty. Avoid generic/vague phrases in the profile such as “visionary executive with extensive experience in managing departments and people”.
Select relevant responsibilities and success stories and present them in a manner that illustrates the connection to the target industry. This will prove that you can produce the results that they need. At the interview be prepared to convince the hiring authority how your skills and accomplishments can be applied in that organization to solve their business challenges.
6. Consider applying for positions in smaller firms in your target industry where the opportunities may be more abundant. Smaller firms are also more likely to consider hiring those without industry experience. Small-to-medium-size organizations have fewer management levels and may not have the right talent to promote from within. The criteria may also be more relaxed in smaller companies.
On a final note, as with any job search, doing your homework is paramount. Although changing industries can pose quite a challenge, thorough preparation, a written plan, solid execution and persistence can yield the results you desire-a more personally and professionally rewarding career.