How to Transition Industries or Roles (a step-by-step guide)

Let’s get real for a moment.

The average person who is tenacious, and willing to learn (or can use Google), is probably capable of excelling in multiple career paths far beyond what their résumé or degree might say.

But why is it so darn hard to transition industries or roles? 

Changing career paths is one of the most common things people ask me for help with. On a weekly basis I hear:

“I’m want anything outside of my industry”

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years, I’d like to try something new”

“I’ve applied to the [insert industry] multiple times but I never hear back”

I’m not saying you could go be a surgeon or an aeronautical engineer tomorrow without any training but why can’t someone in sales transition to marketing, or marketing to operations, or move from the finance industry to the sports industry? Here's a step-by-step guide on how to make bold career moves by building your network.

1. Determine what kind of move you're trying to make.

There’s 3 different types of moves you can make.

  1. Same role, different industry.
  2. Same industry, different role.
  3. Different industry, different role.

See below:

 

Knowing what type of move you're trying to make will help you determine the kind of questions you're going to need to ask people. Naturally, the third type of move is the most difficult but the first two should be easier as you'll already have the role or industry in common.

2. Use LinkedIn to connect with people in similar jobs that you want.

You need to start building relationships with people who are currently in the role or industry that you want to go after.

Use LinkedIn to reach out to your target audience and conduct 15-20 minute informational interviews. An informational interview is an exchange of ideas about a particular role, industry or company but no formal hiring decision is made or necessarily discussed.

Your goal is to learn about the role/industry by asking thoughtful questions so you can understand what gaps you have in your experience or the biggest barriers you're going to face and, most importantly, BUILD RAPPORT with someone.

How to ask people for informational interviews:

This following is a sample template taken from my online course and coaching program which teaches you how to tap into the hidden job market and build your network. Copy and paste the following in a message (once they've accepted your LinkedIn connection request). If you can't send a connection request because they're a 3rd connection check out this mini hack or if you have InMails you can use those too.

“Hi [NAME],

Thanks for connecting with me. 

I see you’ve been at [company] for over 5 years now - how are things going? I’m a huge fan/customer/have heard good things/admire the cause/have used the service for years. (CUSTOMISED + RELATABLE)

Most people I know use LinkedIn to build professional relationships - is that what you use it for? (IF THEY SAY NO THEY'RE A WIERDO)

If you’re open to building your network, it would be great to chat via phone for 15-20 minutes. I’m looking to make a move into a [insert role]/the [insert industry] over the next year or so and wondered if you could spare some time to exchange ideas about some trends and what challenges I might face? (THE ASK)

Can I call you before work at 8:15AM or after work at 5:15PM for a brief networking call? Or let me know when is best. (GIVE 2-3 EASY OPTIONS FOR THEM TO CHOOSE FROM)

I look forward to hearing from you and if you’re really busy and can’t get back to me - don’t worry, I’ll follow up with you next week. (GIVE AN ESCAPE ROPE IN CASE THEY'RE BUSY - ALSO GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO FOLLOW UP).

Thanks!

Sam"

778-123-4567

Not everyone is going to get back to you - and that's OKAY.

People get overwhelmed and some people (not just millennials) are socially inept or highly introverted, and the idea of talking over the phone with a stranger might be too much for them.

Take those on the chin and move on.

During your calls, you want to conduct research by asking questions like:

  • What is your day-to-day like?
  • What major trends do you see affecting your industry
  • What formal qualifications are required for this career path?
  • What advice would you have for someone looking to get into your field?
  • What kind of people does [company] look to hire?
  • What skills, education or experience would you look for before hiring someone on your team?
  • How do you/does your company usually hire people?
  • Who are some of the key influencers in your industry?
  • What resources do you refer to in order to stay current in your field?
  • Have you ever hired and taken a chance on someone outside of your industry or someone green?
  • What experience is particularly valuable to your department/company?
  • What advice would you have for me in order to make a successful transition to this role/field?

Again, your goal is to conduct a gap analysis on your experience versus the experience required for your target role. Aim for 15-20 informational interviews.

3. Use LinkedIn to connect with hiring managers.

Regardless of the type of transition you're looking to make, you'll need to build your network of people who typically hire for the position you want. Your next step is to reach out to direct hiring managers (avoid HR unless you want an HR position).

Most hiring managers have hired someone who is light on experience but comes via a referral or someone that they know to be smart, reliable, enthusiastic to learn and hardworking.

Once you've conducted 15-20 informational interviews with people in the role you want you should have a good knowledge of the day-to-day duties, primarily skillsets required, and how this role affects or functions within a business. This will allow to "talk the talk" when you're on the phone with hiring managers.

Remember: "Sellin' ain't tellin'"

Half of selling yourself as a potential candidate is the ability to ask thought-provoking questions about their business and dig for pain points while offering solutions and ideas based on the experience you have. That's why it's important to start with people who have the role that you want and learn from them before approaching hiring managers - so you have ideas and thoughts worth bringing to the table.

4. Follow up with your new connections and ADD VALUE to their day.

At the end of each informational interview you should be determining whether you've built up enough rapport to keep in touch, ask for a face-to-face, or if you want to let the relationship fade.

Consider this exercise as "professional dating" - you're not going to match with everyone.

Follow up schedule:

  • Within 2 hours: send a thank you email/LinkedIn message. Ask them how you can help them in the future (offer your network, be a referral partner to them, etc).
  • Within 24 hours: send a handwritten thank you note (Google their office address). If you're too lazy, scared or insecure about your handwriting to do this, don't bother reading any further.
  • 2 weeks later: send an email with an interesting article or white paper which is relevant to their role/their business or something that came up during your conversation. Let them know you're still researching the industry/role and remind them that you're happy to help them if they need something.
  • After that, once a month is sufficient but make sure you're always bringing value to their day. Don't just follow up with "I'm still looking, let me know if you hear of anything". Use the calendar on your phone to set reminders.

This is about building relationships - for the long-term - with potential future colleagues and being genuinely curious about how you can help others.

Like dating, building a genuine rapport takes time so be patient.

5. Making the ask

Once you've built up a network of 20-30 professionals in a similar role that you want or who hire for the role you want, you'll be surprised at how much movement you'll see in the industry. Your new LinkedIn connections will also open up the number of 2nd connections within that field.

Remember: serendipitous things happen when you take the time to grow your network and offer to help others.

If you see an online posting for a position you're interested in - and you know the hiring manager or have made a connection with someone in the company - make the ask.

Don't assume you'll be top of mind just because you chatted to someone on the phone or had coffee with the hiring manager. You have to be BOLD.

You can also ask your new network to introduce you to people that they know for additional informational interviews. Keep building your network.

Copy and paste the following message (tweak as necessary):

"Hi [Name]

Hope all is well.

I noticed your company is hiring for a [insert position] and wondered if you'd be open to a brief chat about it or if you'd encourage me to apply?

As you know, I've been researching about transitioning to a role like this and I'd love to the opportunity to exchange some thoughts about the deliverables of the role and what I could potentially bring to the table. If nothing comes of our conversation I'd be happy to search my network for someone who could be a better fit.

I'm sure you'll get some strong applicants too so no pressure if you don't think it's a fit this round - I understand how this typically works and I still appreciate all the help you've given so far.

Thanks,

Sam"

The important thing to note is keeping it low pressure and telling them it's okay to say not right now.

6. Make sure your résumé/CV is filled with Time, Money, Manpower accomplishments.

Résumés and CVs don't get you the job but they're still a formal part of the recruitment process and you need to make sure yours is showcasing your biggest career accomplishments and what transferable skills, and results, you can bring to the table.

Generic and nebulous terms like "dynamic, results oriented leader" isn't going to cut it so remove that crap from your résumé.

You have to learn to write, sell and talk about your accomplishments in terms of:

Time: when have you done something ahead of schedule? How long was the seminar you delivered? How often did you do a task? How long was that project?

Money: how much money have you made, saved or managed for the company? Talk in percentages or 4/5/6/7 figure budgets or the number of transactions, etc.

Manpower*: how many people do you manage? How large is the team you work in? Who else do you work closely with? How many clients/vendors/customers do you maintain?

* I also mean Womanpower and Peoplepower.

The top performers of any industry are always able to quantify their accomplishments and usually talk in terms of Time, Money & Manpower. For example:

Don't write this: "created and developed the company's marketing strategy and promotional materials"

Write this"created and developed an 18-month strategic marketing plan which included the launch of 20 new products and 2 new services. The promotional materials spanned 4 distinct markets and involved collaborating with 3 other department managers (Sales, Supply Chain, and Distribution)."

Writing your accomplishments using this concept will make it easier for hiring managers outside of your industry/role to understand - objectively - what you can bring to their team.

If you struggle to sell yourself or don't know how to do this I can write your résumé for you - while you watch - in an hour.

Good luck,

- Sam