Before the candidate could even introduce himself, the hiring manager stopped him. “So, I see you want a role at my tech firm. But why should I hire you when you have only worked in retail?”

It’s the type of question that anyone who wants to switch industries dreads, but job switching may indeed become a fact of life for millions. For starters, of course, there are the millions of newly unemployed whose roles have vanished. And experts say even those who have jobs know that their roles may no longer exist or change after the myriad pandemic-related business shifts are finished.

Certainly, it’s easy to see that the new normal will very likely create opportunities in some sectors—healthcare and technology, for example—but experts predict new roles will open up in manufacturing, finance, and yes, even hard-hit retail and hospitality. The smart job seekers are already positioning themselves. “If you have no skill or experience in the industry, it doesn’t mean you can’t get there,” says Sean Carney, a career coach with Korn Ferry Advance.

 

Show what employers want.

In the middle of a crisis, employers of all industries are looking for anyone who can demonstrate a few select traits: the ability to manage ambiguity, resiliency, and courage among them. If you are an aspiring industry switcher, experts recommend looking back at your career and reformatting your experiences to showcase these in-demand traits.

Then you can showcase those traits not only on your resume (by showcasing accomplishments rather than promotions) but also in interviews. These in-demand skills can trump industry experience, says Mary Elizabeth Sadd, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and leader of the firm’s North American Packaging practice.

Find the common threads.

On the surface, a hotel chain and a clothing store might not seem to have much in common. But they each share one critical component: real estate, usually a lot of it. Both industries are also ultimately about maximizing sales out of a given space. “You want to find the commonality in business models and the roles themselves,” says Radhika Papandreou, a Korn Ferry senior client partner who specializes in the travel, hospitality, leisure, and real estate sectors. Indeed, hospitality executives are often recruited into other industries because of their experience with delivering high-quality customer service, a trait some industries find they lack.

Such threads can be found just about anywhere. Many lower-level jobs require basic computer coding skills as well as the ability to use a spreadsheet, work well with teams, and build a basic financial model. But it applies to highly specialized roles too. For instance, a packaging manufacturer may not actively seek out someone from aerospace or the automotive industries. But many roles in packaging involve work with precise, highly engineered plastics and other materials. “The end customers might be different, but the need is the same,” says Sadd.

Find referrals in your network.

An overwhelming number of jobs aren’t ever publicly posted, so you’ll only learn about them from someone you know. Networking is even more important when you’re looking to shift into a different role or industry. People in your network, or the people those people refer you to, can fill you in on what it’s like to work in a different industry and what skills you may need to learn. Importantly, they can act as referrals and references for potential new employers.

To be sure, “the time to network is when you don’t need it,” Carney says, and the normal routes pre-pandemic—in-person meetings or coffees and networking events—have vanished. Nonetheless, experts say there are still a host of systematic approaches to remind the business professionals you know that you’re around—and letting others realize you exist.

Short-term studying for long-term gains.

It’s unrealistic for someone with zero finance experience to think they can cram an MBA’s worth of education in three months. But anyone who wants to get into finance could take a course in basic finance or accounting online and get a certificate as proof they have a basic understanding of the subject. “These types of short-term moves can be part of a long-term career vision,” Carney says. 

Mary Elizabeth Saad
senior client partner, leader north american packaging practice
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