Changing Careers: How to Capitalize on Your Outside Expertise

This career consultant gives tips on breaking into a new industry or position

3 July 2015

A version of this article originally appeared in November 2014 on IEEE-USA InSight.

Taking your professional experience and knowledge to a different industry or taking on a new management position within your current organization can be a welcome change, but don’t be surprised if you encounter resistance from prospective employers. They may be convinced that hiring someone with no direct experience is a bad idea.

As the job candidate, it is your responsibility to allay the employer’s concerns. Here’s how to reassure the organization that you’re a risk-free hire and the right choice for its team.

SHOW, DON’T JUST TELL

Start by learning what your would-be employer thinks is needed in an ideal hire. This information is in the job description, which indicates the knowledge, skills, and experience necessary for the position. Address these points in your cover letter (as well as during the interview) by describing how your qualifications pertain to the job. Be sure to include examples of related achievements. In other words “show, don’t just tell” them about your expertise.

Moreover, emphasize the fresh ideas, new relationships, enthusiasm, and different perspective that you will bring to the job because of your experience. Show the employer how you have the potential to add value by, say, increasing profits, reducing costs, improving processes, or boosting morale and performance. Newcomers to an organization are in a unique position to meet challenges and pioneer breakthroughs by adapting techniques that have been effective for them elsewhere.

And don’t be afraid to discuss qualifications you may have that go beyond what the employer is seeking. Coming from another industry or role, you could be equipped with a host of skills and experience useful to the job you want to move to. It’s your job to show that you have other competencies that are just as valuable as industry experience.

PERSONAL CONNECTION

Sometimes skills and experience cannot be communicated effectively through a cover letter and résumé or online profile alone. For a career changer, networking is the best source for job leads and a possible referral from a trusted contact within a company. Having someone from the inside vouch for your abilities is a great way to get through the door. And then, of course, you have to convince the employer that you’re up for the challenges and won’t burden the organization with a slow learning curve or serious and costly mistakes.

But once you’re there, it’s up to you to demonstrate that your knowledge and skills are credible and worthy of your new employer's trust. Remember that hiring managers prefer bringing in new employees they believe will be productive right out of the gate. They want those who fit into the company’s culture, are familiar with the industry (as well as its jargon and idiosyncrasies), and understand the competitive environment. Decision makers need help visualizing how you will fit in. During the interview, prove that you can hit the ground running by describing your success stories and accomplishments that are transferable to excelling in the new role. 

Debra Feldman is a career consultant and the founder of JobWhiz.

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