A few months ago, I was catching up with a friend over coffee. He was worried about his industry - there were signs that things were going to be changing, and not for the better.
Even though his specialty - marketing - was still highly relevant in the job market, he had only ever worked in one industry and was wondering if venturing out into another would be too big a risk.
While still considering his next move, a couple of his colleagues got laid off and any reservations he had about moving were settled - he did not have a choice but to start seeking other opportunities. For him, staying in an industry that he felt was declining was not an option - he needed to switch both companies and industries.
There’s a familiarity that comes with spending a significant period of time in one industry. Consequently, it may feel as if the safest bet is to look for roles in different companies, but to stay within the same sector - after all you have made extensive contacts and understand how it works.
But what if your sector is undergoing contraction or the opportunities are reducing every year? How can you switch industries successfully, and how can you make yourself attractive to the recruiter who received your application?
Global changes, local effects
In 2007 and 2008, during the financial crisis, there was significant contraction in the financial services sector. This event, which has now since been classified as a black swan event - an occurrence that was unprecedented and unexpected when it occurred - may feel too far from our reality. But just like the more recent Brexit, the impact’s ripple effects will be felt worldwide, with the most immediate and tangible after-effects being a change in regulation of funding and investment regulations.
Say you work in an industry or company whose survival is predicated on funding or that receives investment from international organisations affected by global events. If you wait until layoffs are underway, you have waited too long.
According to research conducted after the 2007/8 financial crisis in the US and the UK, 68 per cent of the applications sent to recruiters were from people trying to get out of the affected industries.
Technology is, and will continue to affect a myriad of industries including media, retail, human resources, farming etc.
Are you a product?
Christensen, a career long industry switcher recommends that we think of ourselves more as a product - a brand. In his view, industry experience helps, but so do your other skills, competencies and aptitudes.
If you were selling, say, a software system, you would not restrict its functionalities to one industry. Instead, you would customise your presentation to everyone you met so that they were able to clearly see the benefits that would accrue to their organisation and how you would resolve their specific challenges.
His recommendation - constantly market yourself by joining and being part of professional groups and events, especially in other industries.
You will get to learn what is happening outside of your stomping grounds and you’ll also identify the unique ways that you bring value to potential roles. Building networks in these spaces also gives you an insider’s perspective of what the hiring process looks at in attractive candidates.
Industry players feel as if hiring from outside their industry increases their risks - so how do handle this?
The main concerns from recruiters are that if you are not familiar with the sector it will take you longer to form or build networks, and you will not hit the ground running. Can you show, using your achievements and performance that you can easily and capably circumvent these concerns?
Even if you are coming from a different vertical, show that the networks you have built up are broad and useful enough that you are actually advantageous as an outsider.
Have you, in the industry you are in, solved a problem that other industries are grappling with?
Find out, by speaking to people in other industries, what keeps them awake at night and start to draw parallels to what you and your team have come up with to improve a similar situation, even if it is in a different context.
And lastly, there is the oldie but goodie. Each individual has a set of skills and competencies that are relevant regardless of which industry they are being applied in.
Ensure that with this knowledge, you have an industry targeted resume for the different industries you’re looking at. Demonstrate a clear match between an employer’s needs and your skills, including customising the job title.