Crossover careers: How to plot your switch

After someone has worked for a while, the dreaded "need experience to get experience" hurdle is history, right? Maybe not. Jobseekers who pursue new interests often run into walls when they try to transfer their skills to a different industry.

"Ever since layoffs become the norm, people have been looking at opportunities to cross over to other industries," says Louise Garver, career coach for Career Directions LLC, in suburban Hartford, Conn. "That is also a function of widening one's opportunities. If you're interested in getting back to work as quickly as possible, you do want to open up doors to other possibilities."

Workers seek to change industries for a variety of reasons. Some may take a job layoff as an opportunity to move in to an industry with more available jobs, such as healthcare. Others may decide to pursue a particular passion or interest.

"I'm working with a CEO at the moment who is in the nonprofit arena but wants to make a change in industry to work for an organization associated with the arts or architecture," Garver says. "She is doing it simply because she has always had a passion for arts, culture and is fascinated by architecture. At this point in her career, she feels that it would be a great thing to apply her executive skills in an industry she is passionate about."

The good news is that changing industries can often be simpler and less time-intensive than changing careers. Rather than learning an entirely new skill set, which may mean going back to school or obtaining other additional training, making an industry switch centers on communicating how a job seeker's current skills can already apply in a new arena.

"You need to have clarity in your own mind in terms of what you want to accomplish, then convey it to other people," says Cheryl Palmer, executive career coach for Call to Career, Silver Spring, Md. "Know what kind of organization you're targeting and at what level, rather than having 10 different things you're looking into. It's much easier to convince people you are actually serious."

It also means explaining why the switch makes sense.

"You need to do your homework to have an understanding of why that industry interests you," Garver says. "You need to be prepared to answer the tough questions of why you're doing what you're doing."

As a result, the first and most important step is to do research. Learn more about the current topics that people are discussing in the industry. What's in the news? What big changes are taking place? What are some major questions the industry will face in the next 10 years?

"Even though obviously you know your profession, you need to know the industry's lingo - and every industry has a lingo," Palmer says. "You can read industry journals, attend industry events and start networking with people who are in that industry."

Next, write a plan. Garver advises jobseekers to begin by writing out their objective for the specific position they hope to obtain. Then they can think of the core duties and skills needed for their current position and make a long list of skills that could immediately transfer into a similar job in a different industry. For example, someone in sales might write down skills such as prospecting, developing relationships, demonstrating products or closing deals.

"Even look at your brand," Garver says. "What are your unique differentiators? What do you think you could bring to that organization from your current industry that might give you an edge over someone else?"

From there, the lists continue. Identify an optimal industry and related industries to consider. For example, someone interested in healthcare might be looking at hospitals but might also consider pharmaceutical companies. Investigate companies that seem as if they might be a good fit, then start building a list of possible contacts. These names can come from company websites or through social media sites, such as LinkedIn. Both Palmer and Garver agree on the immense importance of networking when attempting to move into new arenas.

"If you're just on the outside looking in, it's hard to hear about opportunities," Palmer says. "But once you get to know people and talk to people in the industry, you start to hear more about job openings."


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