I’ve always been told that multiple times throughout your career you’ll have to reinvent yourself. It might be because the software you specialize in becomes obsolete or that you’ve reached the peak of your ladder and need to change to keep advancing. Sometimes this is a change within a company, but often times this can be a switch to a new industry altogether.
In order to give yourself the best chance at landing a job in a new industry, it’s best to focus on transferrable skills that you can highlight from your current job, and spend time researching the new job and industry to show your interest and preparation for the interview.
Switching Careers Is Difficult but Completely Doable
Whether you’re reinventing yourself in your own industry or starting over completely in a brand new one, there are going to be growing pains. You can absolutely overcome these pains and switch to the career you’re dreaming of, but it’s important to be aware of the struggles of the career switch so you can face those challenges head-on.
It’s Going To Be Uncomfortable
When switching jobs, especially when you’re trying to swap into a new industry, you don’t know what you don’t know. And so regardless of what you’re switching to, you’re likely going to have to spend quite a bit of time learning the ins and outs of the company, role, and industry. Think of spending nights and weekends studying new skills, watching videos, listening to podcasts, and maybe even getting certifications. It’s always hard at first because literally, everything is new, and so you really need to understand that it’s going to take time for you to really start to feel anywhere near comfortable in the industry you’re hoping to switch to.
Now of course you’re not going to need to learn everything right off the bat, but every piece of knowledge that you can pick up is going to help you land that first job and get your foot in the door.
It’s Going To Take Up Your Time
Beyond all the time you’ll spend learning about the new industry, you’re going to have to apply, and trust me, you’ll be applying a lot. It’s really a numbers game when it comes to switching careers. You need to find a company that can really appreciate your skills from your previous career and are willing to take a shot at hiring you instead of somebody more familiar with the industry. Updating your resume, applying to jobs, and interviewing takes time… Lots of time… and if you’re still working full time and trying to build up your knowledge and skills on top of family or any other responsibilities you might have and it can be a lot.
Changing Careers Requires Sacrifice (But It’s Worth It)
Another thing you might have to sacrifice is pay. Most of the time we switch careers because it has more potential for career growth, but that doesn’t mean we’ll always start off making more money. Often times you’ll have to take a pay cut when switching to a new career field just due to the fact that you’ll probably need to take a slightly more junior role than you might have at your current company.
The point here is that it’s not easy, and it will take time and energy. You WILL need to sacrifice in order to get where you want to go. That’s not anything new though, but often times you’ll find that the cost of doing nothing and staying stagnant can be its own sacrifice. In my mind it’s simple, it’s always worth it. Simple doesn’t mean easy though, but having a good grasp of why you’re doing what you’re doing is going to help you along the way. That’s why one of the first steps in actually making that career change is to figure out exactly what you want.
Figure Out What You Want
First and foremost when changing careers, it’s vital that you know where you’re going. Sometimes we’re simply moving away from a job that we hate, but one of the most powerful things you can do is have an area of focus. Everything else discussed in this article will be way more difficult if you are trying to spread your focus across several jobs, especially if those jobs are in different industries
The easiest way to do this is through research. You’ve probably seen the ven diagram that shows your ideal job at the intersection between what you’re skilled at, what you’re interested in, and what pays well. This is a great place to start, but once you’ve narrowed it down to a handful of jobs, you’ll want to take the next step and do some research.
Find Those Doing What You Want to Do
Talking to individuals who are currently working in that industry or job position is going to be an excellent resource to get an idea of what working in that kind of role is really like.
One reason I suggest finding individuals who are currently working in those positions is that something happens once you’re out of a job position. It’s super easy to see the past through rose-colored glasses or forget what some of the daily struggles were. Sure their perspective will still be valuable, but I find that individuals who are doing the job day to day are the best ones to give you up-to-date information that will give you the knowledge and understanding required to see if it’s really something you see yourself pursuing.
If you’re just starting out in your career, you might not know exactly what you want, and that’s okay. Honestly, most careers are all about moving forward and making pivots as you go. If you’re a veteran in your industry and hoping to change fields, it can feel a bit more daunting, but the same advice still applies.
Figure out what it is that you really value. Decide what sacrifices you are and aren’t willing to face. Go straight to the source by connecting with individuals doing the job that you want to do.
Once you decided the direction you’re going to be working towards, you can move on to the next step of translating your current skills to those of the industry or job you’re hoping to switch to.
Find your transferable skills and abilities
So you’ve decided the direction you’re headed! Finding a handful of potential jobs in the same industry is going to make this next part much easier. As you probably guessed, you’re going to need to update your resume with information that’s more specific to your new desired job, but that can be difficult when switching fields, so let’s take a look at the two types of skills and experiences you’ll be adding to your resume.
Foundational skills are those skills that are going to be important in really every job out there. Sure there are exceptions, but for the most part, there are a handful of skills that are going to look good on your resume and are likely skills that you’ve already gotten some practice in at your current job.
Foundational Skills are things like:
Most foundational skills are soft skills, but there are some hard skills like an understanding of Microsoft Office, email, and virtual meeting software that are nearly universal.
What you’ll want to do is to incorporate each of these into bullet points on your resume. You likely have one or all of these on your current resume, but you’ll want to update it to eliminate any industry-specific jargon, and tailor it towards your new audience, the recruiter, and/or hiring manager in the job you’re applying to.
Not to get too deep into resume writing strategies (there’s an entire industry around that alone), but ideally your resume will include your skills and proficiencies, and utilize experiential bullets to show the interviewers that your understanding of each of those skills, rather than just listing them out under a “skills” section of your resume.
This is going to come in handy later when you need to interview, so you might as well get started on your resume by coming up with examples of how you’ve displayed these foundational skills in your current position. This way, even though the topic of your experience may be different from the industry you’re applying to, you’ll be able to show that you can still bring those skills and proficiencies over, regardless of the job or industry.
Career/Industry/Job specific skills
In addition to foundational skills. You’ll need to include skills specific to the job you’re applying to. This can be the most difficult part of the whole process. The best place to start is with the job listing. Find the skills and experiences on there and see what you can do about getting those on your resume. It’s much better to work backward in this way because you’ll be able to spend your time on exactly what you need to, rather than listing out skills that don’t really matter for this job.
“No matter how amazing your skills and experiences sound. If they’re not relevant to the job you’re applying to, leave it off the resume.”
Soft skills are a great place to start. It’s more likely that you’ll have some or all of the required skills. Just like foundational skills, you’ll want to write out some strong bullets of your experiences that show these skills. Again, stay away from any industry-specific jargon or anything that the hiring manager won’t fully understand. Context is everything, and if the person reading the resume doesn’t understand why your experiences were impressive, then it’s worthless.
Hard skills, degrees, and certifications are going to be a lot more difficult to work into your resume.
If the job listing mentions pieces of software you’re unfamiliar with, I suggest finding some online tutorials and learning the bare basics about the software.
What is the purpose of the software, and what are some of the key functions of the software? How does it compare to and interact with other software?
Once you’ve done this, you can at least put that on your resume with something like “knowledge of ___” or “novice in ___”.
The same goes for all sorts of hard skills. The idea is to get a surface-level understanding of as much as you can and find a way to incorporate that into your resume. As stupid as it may sound, simply having those keywords on your resume is going to get you way more interviews, and that’s the most critical part of the process. This is doubly true when switching careers.
Certifications work the same way. If you can show that you’re working towards a certification, then put that on your resume. This is going to be a great way to start learning that critical industry knowledge that you might be lacking, and just as importantly, help you get past the Applicant Tracking System(ATS) and find your way to an Interview.
Prepare for the Interview
Everything to this point has been about getting an interview for the job that you’re interested in. If at the beginning you not be getting so many interviews, don’t worry. Like I said before, it’s a numbers game. With that being said, every interview you do get is an opportunity for you to grow. The benefit of landing interviews is not only that you could potentially receive a job offer, but also to give you a better understanding of what hiring managers in these job positions are really looking for and what they prioritize in a new hire. The latter obviously assists in the potential for the former.
The interview part of the whole career change is, in my opinion, the most vital part of the entire process. Everything leading up to it, the research, the resume, all of it was simply to get you to the point that you can sit down with a hiring manager and sell yourself based on your skills and potential to be amazing in this new career.
Don’t get me wrong. Every interview, regardless if you’re switching industries or not, is about selling yourself. The main difference is that normally, you’re resume has relevant experiences that prime the interviewer to believe you can potentially do the job because you’ve done similar things before. When you’re totally switching careers, you don’t get that benefit of the doubt. You walk into that interview and you need to overcome the interviewer’s fears and concerns that your lack of industry-specific experience is going to be a deal breaker. The fear that you may be a smart person, but not a person that can do this job.
When you’re completely switching industries, the baseline expectation is that you cannot do this job. The interview is all about overcoming that baseline expectation to convince them that not only could you do the job, but that you’re skills and experiences in a separate industry actually make you even more qualified due to your unique strengths that nobody else can bring to the table.
Embrace The Difference
I eluded to it briefly in that last sentence, but one of the traits that I’ve seen as the most successful when switching careers is utilizing unique experiences as a strength. This may sound obvious but I talk to a lot of people who are afraid to lean into their past experiences. They try so hard to make everything relate perfectly to the industry they’re applying to that they forget to highlight the fact that they are bringing a brand new perspective to the table. This new perspective is going to be one of the best things you can do to sell the interviewers that you’re the ideal candidate.
Just like with any interview, the first thing that you need to do is convince the interviewer that you’re qualified for the position. As mentioned before, this is significantly harder coming from a completely different industry, but not unachievable. Once you’ve convinced the interviewer of that, however, it’s all about showing why you’re unique and getting the interviewer to like you. And with your background in a different industry, you’re going to easily be able to stand out with unique and interesting stories that the interviewers haven’t heard before.
What About Being Qualified?
I mentioned a few times up until now, but you’re going to have to convince the interviewers that you’re qualified for the job. This is obviously more difficult because you’re going to have fewer industry-specific skills and experiences. Especially if the job position leans on hard skills, you might have a hard time convincing them of this. The approach to this is threefold:
Focus On Foundational Skills
Foundational Skills, remember those? The skills that literally every organization seeks and is relatively unaffected by the industry you’re in? Yea those, highlight those. This is going to be the part of your interview where you can make the most gains. Make sure you have phenomenal behavioral interview responses, as those are generally going to be questions that let you share those foundational skills. If your foundation game is strong enough, that might even be good enough, but you should be ready with the next step
Industry Specific Knowledge
This one is going to come down to your research. The reason why you’re handicapped here is that you don’t have much industry experience. You can make up for that with industry knowledge. This can be somewhat surface level, but be able to speak with the industry jargon. Have a basic understanding of what each of the items on the job listing is and be able to talk about them. I’m not saying you need to be an expert in anything, but the point here is to alleviate the interviewer’s fears about you, and show that you’re the kind of person who is interested enough to have amassed that amount of knowledge without even working in the industry is going to set them at ease about you being a person who is willing to learn and grow. This leads perfectly to the final step.
Highlight Your Ability To Adapt And Learn
This is the number one skill that they need to feel confident in by the end of the interview, so much so that it’s earned its place as its very own step. Use experiences of times you’ve had to adapt to a new environment, new software, new whatever. The whole point here is to show them that you have the aptitude to do the job you’re applying to. They don’t expect that you’ve done it before as they might with other candidates, but they darn well better expect that you could do the job if given the opportunity. That’s why being able to hit the ground running, initiate self-learning, and adapt quickly is going to be the crown jewel of your interview.
Beyond leaning into your unique experiences and following the three steps to show your qualifications, most interview advice is going to be the same. This entire website is full of interview tips and examples, so feel free to peruse these interview preparation articles or check out my YouTube channel which breaks down these questions in more detail. Either way, best of luck to you in your new endeavor. Switching careers is scary, but I would say it’s almost always the right choice. The fear of failure can be tough, but with drive and a bit of coaching, the best is yet to come for you and your career.