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Switching Industries: Building Bridges to Translate Experience from One Industry to Another

The first hurdle that a candidate faces when trying to switch industries is translating their experience from one industry to another.

When drafting our CVs we tend to focus on terms, concepts, and details relevant to our past industry specific experience. This may not translate to immediate value when approaching recruitment in a new industry. By breaking your accomplishments and job experience down into homogenous business concepts, your CV will better communicate the value of your skills across markets. This can be accomplished by focusing on industry agnostic terms and outcomes as it pertains to customers, products, constraints, and business value. If an HR representative – who likely has no experience recruiting in your former industry – can see you’re a fit for their role, and that your industry experience is relevant, you’ll likely receive a callback.

In my opinion, the best way to do this is to gather a few job descriptions within the industry you find attractive and tailor your CV, as if the aggregate descriptions were the job you are applying for. Together, these job descriptions will provide you with a list of hot buttons and keywords that will help you get past the HR keyword query. You’ll also get a sense of the market problems plaguing these roles and/or industry, which will help inform your pitch.

I have found this to be a more efficient way of engaging the hiring process than the tedious task of catering my CV to each individual role. That said, common sense should apply here, and I would only recommend this approach when creating your “Master CV”, as drastically different roles and/or industries outside your target market will require tweaking.

What’s next?

In order to be successful to having HR’s ear during the initial callback, you have to….

#1 Know what YOU want.

What is your motivation? Why are you interested in this industry change, and what are you trying to achieve? By knowing your objectives for this move, you’ll be likely able to use your previous experience as a launch pad for drawing relevant connections between your past experience and desired career growth.

Remember that you can likely change roles within a similar industry, or likely change industries within a similar role, but it is difficult to change roles within different industries – unless you’re pursuing entry-level opportunities.

Position your desired industry as a build on your prior experience, and build a bridge between your career objectives and your past experience, drawing on the strengths your industry move brings to both you and the company. Recruitment needs to understand your connection to the company and industry in order to believe you’re a competitive enough candidate to go forth in the interview. Doing this well will not only position you as competitive, but dynamic, in that you’ll understand the challenges ahead for the company, and ultimately their successful candidate.

A helpful way to tackle this exercise is to create a list of your priorities for your next role. When looking at roles that are attractive to you in other industries, make sure that your skillset meets the majority of their job requirements, and that the opportunity meets at least half of your career growth priorities. By being a fit for the role in terms of skillset, you’re sparking an interest by the company, and also continuing to build on your experience in terms of career growth.

#2 Know the Company & Industry.

On the heels of ‘knowing what you want’, is having the background information to know why you want this company within this industry. The HR representative, and everyone else you meet during the hiring process, wants you to WANT this company, and you need to show them that they are your front runner, and WHY.

This is especially important when switching industries. What was it about your past experience in other industries that has attracted you to this industry, and what is it about this experience that gives you the belief that you will be successful within this industry environment? This is your sell, and in selling it, you not only establish that you understand their company, their industry, and their challenges, but that your experience is directly relevant to helping them solve their business needs.

The best way to articulate this during the hiring process is to again use industry agnostic terms that transcend boundaries. In doing your research, ask yourself: Where is this company in their industry lifecycle curve? Is this similar to my past industry experience? Are there synergies in their business model, to past business models that I’ve experienced in other industries? What are the problems this company and/or industry are trying to solve, and how does this relate to my past experience?

Always for more experienced roles, synergies have to be identified between your past experience and the company’s present need in order to establish your relevancy as a competitive candidate. Identify Synergies. Build Bridges.

#3 Apply your Learning.

You’ve done your diligence during the hiring process to communicate that there are complimentary lines between your past experience and the needs required of this role, within this company, and industry. Now it is your time to show them.

One of my favourite questions to ask an interviewer is, “What is the #1 problem you are trying to solve by hiring for position?”. That gives you a clear runway to compliment their answer with a response that demonstrates how you would apply your past experience and skills to help them solve this problem. Not only does this provide yet another opportunity to demonstrate that you understand their business and challenges, but it provides you with another opportunity to bridge the relevance of your past experience with their business needs, and close the gap between industries.

#4 Package YOU.

You’ve done the work.

You’ve sold your interest in the role.
You’ve sold your interest in the company.
You’ve sold your interest in the industry.
You’ve sold your candidacy for the position.

Now it is time to sell you.

In a professional climate where company culture is a becoming more and more relevant when down-selecting candidates, the onus is on you to illustrate your competitive advantage within their environment. What can they get from you, that no other candidate can provide? By understanding their company culture, and the ethos at the center of their business, you should be able to create some very clear, key selling points that are uniquely yours. Use these as additional points during the interview process to put the finishing touches on your package as their ideal candidate.

Best of Luck!

Megan O’Brien is a product and programme management professional with 10+ years of experience in the utilities sector. After recently completing her MBA, Megan started a new role in the technology sector and used this approach to switch industries. View Megan’s LinkedIn profile here.

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