Six Steps for Executives Changing Industries


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.

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.

steps_changing_industriesThe 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 healthcare, closely aligned areas include pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, outpatient care companies, packaging and container companies supplying the healthcare industry, and manufacturers of electronic instruments for healthcare equipment.

Therefore, executive search consultants or employers 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. Failing industries are not going to be as viable as those that are 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. Immerse yourself in the new industry. 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, read trade/industry publications, and talk with others to learn about their industry and future trends.

Who is in your network that either works in your target industry or can refer you to those that do? Join LinkedIn groups related to your target industry and make new contacts through those groups. Attend professional conferences and seminars if possible. The more you understand about the new industry and the employers in the 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 possess? If not, what’s missing and is it something you can readily develop? If so, formulate a plan.

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, P&L management, people development and management, and so forth. Review your career with a focused eye to identify your skills and accomplishments that are relevant to your new industry of choice.

5. Write a focused resume 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 demonstrate that you can produce the results that they need. At the interview discuss 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 a challenge, thorough preparation, a written plan, solid execution, and persistence can yield the results you desire—a more personally and professionally rewarding career.

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About the author

Louise Garver's picture

Louise Garver, certified executive resume writer, branding and job search strategist/coach with BlueSteps Executive Career Services, has guided executives across industries and disciplines to land their ideal position in less time while maximizing their compensation. She would be happy to share this vital information with you! Energize your search and learn how to navigate easily the complex job market with her step-by-step job search system.

Learn more about the BlueSteps team of career advisors and the services they provide to help you improve your career trajectory here.

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