5 Tips For Changing Industries

Changing industries is hard.

Recruiters and hiring managers glance at your resume and build an impression of your fit based on the industries you’ve worked in.  If you come from outside an industry, it often creates an extra barrier to overcome. 

But don’t be discouraged!

I KNOW you can do it.  People do it all the time.  I’ve done it two times.

I went from a Big 4 consulting firm to a tiny little environmentally-friendly products company.  Then I successfully made the jump into private equity and venture investing.

There are some things I’ve done that have helped position me for industry transitions and there are some things I’ve seen other people do that have been extremely effective as well.  Let’s take a look…

1. Meet people in the industry

A great way to start your industry transition is to talk in depth with people in the industry in which you’re interested.  If you’re open to multiple industries, that’s fine, but try to have some general parameters.

As you hone in, do you know anyone who works in those industries?  If not, try some cold emails on LinkedIn to people who work in that industry.  Ask them to coffee. Or maybe a phone call. 

Talking with people about a new industry is the best starting point.  Think of a list of questions and start picking their brain.

How do the sales and distribution channels work in that industry?  How do they source or manufacture their products? Are the capital/financial requirements and expectations different for those types of businesses?  Who are the major competitors? How do companies market? What are some of the common terms and acronyms that are used?

There are a hundred questions you can come up with.  If you’re having a hard time building a list, think about your most recent job.  What was important about what you did? Are those things different in other industries?  Can you relate or compare experiences or projects in your past jobs to what goes on in other industries?

If there are local networking events for a certain industry, attend a few.  Search Meetup for events.  Worst case scenario, you now have a talking point during your interview (“when I was at…”).  Best case, you will be more educated.

Go talk to people.

2.  Be a research machine

Have a hunger to learn about the industry.  Do searches to find who is blogging and writing about topics in the industry.  Devour their content.

Try to figure out if there are big annual trade shows or events in that industry.  Are there industry trade associations? Those are some of the best sources of industry information.  Look them up online.

You want to know everything about the industry so you can talk the talk and walk the walk.  If you say you’re interested in an industry, but it’s not authentic and you haven’t done thorough homework, a prospective employer will notice.

3. Documented your biggest accomplishments

Before you update your resume, make a list of what your key accomplishments were in each job you’ve held.

So many people focus on just restating their job description on their resume.  That won’t help you change industries.

You need to make it easy for an employer to see that you will be successful in any industry you’re in.  One way you do that is by emphasizing how you were successful in your past jobs.

What results did you achieve?  They don’t all have to be quantifiable.  Did you contribute in some manner to an important company initiative?  Can you talk about how you can solve complex problems by success you’ve had resolving customer issues that touched multiple departments?

4.  Position your skills as transferable. 

Many of your skills are transferable.  You just have to convince a hiring manager of that.

Too many times in interviews, candidates talk about what they did, not what they learned and the skills they gained.  You need to make what you learned and the skills you gained a key component of your resume and interview technique.

Also, consider doing a brief skills inventory exercise.  Look at your list of accomplishments for your past jobs.  Now create a list of what skills you gained or demonstrated to accomplish those things.

Did you demonstrate that you are a whiz at data analysis or that you can quickly learn new software systems?  Did you build project management skills in a demanding environment? Did you show that you are good at delivering presentations to senior level stakeholders?

Then go share what you’ve come up with with people you know.  Does how you talk about those skills make sense?  Are there other skills you’re leaving out?  Are you effectively positioning your experience on your resume?  

5. Choose the most effective resume format for you

In addition to focusing on your accomplishments and skills in your resume, there are other tactics you can try to position yourself on paper to be a prime candidate for changing industries.

Does it make sense in your case to have an Objective Section that allows you to briefly state why you’re interested in changing industries?  It could also be an opportunity to mention how your experience in a past job lends itself to the job you’re applying. Objectives aren’t necessary in all cases, but they can be useful when changing industries.

Should you have a Profile Summary section that highlights your key areas of expertise?  That way you can set the stage up front that your skills are transferrable.

Are you using formatting tricks to emphasize certain things more than others?  It’s all about where you want to draw a reader’s attention.

Consider bolding your job titles instead of your past company names.

Consider having a bulleted list of key accomplishments or lessons learned within each job experience.

Consider bolding the text “Key Accomplishments” or “Lessons Learned” so it draws a reader’s attention.

Then go talk to more people.  Show people your resume and get their feedback.

Summary

I know first hand that changing industries can seem daunting.  However, following the above suggestions will help.  Focus on your skills and making sure you’re effectively communicating your skills so that a hiring manager can envision your skills at their company.  That will help set you apart.  It’s not about what you did.  It’s about what you learned.