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How to Switch Industries When Your Industry Collapses

Ford factory

Saying goodbye to a hurting industry like auto manufacturing doesn't mean saying goodbye to your profession.

A lot is made about how difficult it is to switch industries. After a long career, leaving the familiar for the unknown is frightening and it summons questions:

Will you have to learn new skills?

Will you need to make new connections and build a new network?

Will you need to start your career from scratch and take an entry-level position in a new industry?

Many job seekers approaching the middle and end of their careers are asking these questions today as the industries they knew — automotive, finance, insurance, media and real estate — are becoming terrible places to find work. They’re worried about the prospect of switching industries and starting over.

But switching industries doesn’t mean starting over, said career experts who spoke to TheLadders for a story on collapsing industries. Changing industries does not mean changing professions, said Cheryl Palmer, a certified executive career coach and president of An accountant is an accountant regardless of how the company makes a living, a network administrator is as much a network administrator at a fashion magazine as at an auto plant, and any salesman worth her salt will tell you she can sell widgets as well as sprockets.

There are some professions, like glassblower, that will not easily relocate to a new trade, Palmer said. And in this employers market, hiring managers are getting snobby about what they consider directly related experience. Most say they prefer industry experience over cumulative, i.e. experience 8 years experience in industry “A” to 12 years experience, but in industry “B.”

But you can make it work:

In this Package

  • Compare your accomplishments and skills to someone in a similar job who has been working in the industry you’re targeting. That will give you a better read on your chances and help you figure out how to position yourself against incumbents, said Robert Hawthorne, president of search firm Hawthorne Research.
    “Look at other people’s resumes and see how they describe their experience,” said Isabel Walcott, a marketing consultant who specializes in Internet strategies. “Sometimes the job is exactly the same, but they call it something different; it might be a ‘content management system’ in one industry and ‘publishing software’ somewhere else. Find people who are in the kind of job you want and link up with them on social networking sites like LinkedIn or Facebook and ask for their advice.”
  • Learn the lingo. Minimize the impression that you’re a fish out of water by reading industry blogs and using the same terms or jargon as others in the new industry, Palmer said. It may be shallow, but it will give the hiring managers or recruiters enough confidence to keep talking to you to find out how much you really know, rather than dismissing you at the outset.
  • Be willing to take a step back. taking a step back is far from starting over. If you accept that there may be new terms and procedures to learn in a new industry (like at a new company), a step back can be merely temporary.
  • Convince hiring managers your professional experience outweighs your lack of industry experience. Spell out for them how your experience translates to common themes in the new industry, and explain it in terms of the results you were able to deliver in your previous field, said Michael Neece, chief strategy officer of PongoResume, an automated resume-writing service.

A change in perspective could help you see changing industries as no more difficult from changing employers.

(Ford Auto Factory by PhillipC, CC3.0)

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