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How to Break into an Unfamiliar Industry

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man in field

Working in a service-focused field — such as accounting, marketing, information technology or something else — has many benefits. One is that it provides you with a skill set you can transfer to a variety of industries.

But while it gives you the opportunity to work with companies focusing on different topic areas, it could mean that those areas, while interesting, aren’t aligned with your experience.

Perhaps that is exactly what attracts you to the position — the chance to dive into something new. Employers often favor candidates with some experience in the field, so how do you break into an industry that you know little to nothing about? Can it even be done?

It is challenging, for sure, but it is possible.

Almost a month ago, I started as the marketing communications specialist for Monroe Veterinary Associates in Rochester, N.Y. Now believe me, I’m no expert when it comes to animal health. But I do love pets (especially doggies!) and I believe in keeping them healthy, so I used that passion and my marketing expertise to get my foot in the door and land the job.

Maybe you’re facing a similar situation and you’re applying for a job that doesn’t exactly match your experience, or you’re thinking about breaking into an unfamiliar industry. Here are some strategies that can help you do just that.

Research the heck out of the new industry

If there is an industry you find interesting, it shouldn’t be such a chore to do a bit of research about it. Find a trade journal or online magazine and read a few articles. A few places you might consider starting are America’s Career InfoNet and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

You don’t need to become an expert overnight; just be sure to pick up a few bits of information that can give you an extra edge during conversations with those currently working in the field.

But please remember: secondary research only goes so far. It’s important to express your passion for and ability to learn more about the industry. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge you don’t know a ton about the area, but be sure to describe an experience that shows you know how to quickly learn new information. To prove during interviews that I can learn quickly, I talked about how I covered a few legal cases for my university’s newspaper during college, which forced me to learn (and accurately write about) complicated information on a deadline.

Talk to others in the field

These days, technology makes it easy to connect with anyone.

I can almost guarantee that no matter the industry you’re considering, you can find someone in the world who’s talking about it online. You can find industry Twitter chats, LinkedIn groups or even connect with a Brazen user who works in the field. Use these tools to make professional connections with people who have experience in areas that interest you.

Exude confidence in your area of expertise

Whether you’re a marketer, accountant, financial director, IT professional or something else, you need to be able to explain how your specific skills and knowledge can apply (and add to) the company and its industry. Even if you can’t bring subject matter expertise to the position, potential employers will love that you have useful skills combined with a unique outsiders perspective.

Personalize your cover letter and rewrite your resume

Hopefully you do this already, but if not, always write cover letters and resumes based on the job descriptions. Unless your experience matches up almost word-for-word with the job at hand (and it almost never does), spell out why you’re qualified (and that includes more than work history) in a clean, professional manner using your cover letter and resume.

Find a way to relate your skills and experiences to the job. For example, in the cover letter I wrote to apply for my current position, I included a sentence or two about how my family has always had a dog and how I’ve helped my mother with her pet-sitting business. I described my marketing communications expertise in the rest of the letter and noted how I could use those skills to help the company. A cover letter is a tool to let your personality and your passion shine.

Ruth Harper is a member of the Brazen Contributor Network. The opinions in this post are her own.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • http://parisianfeline.wordpress.com Tatiana

    This is really great advice! I want to transition into a different field (communications) though I don’t any experience in the area. I’m glad you wrote this because I’ve been panicking about how to break in.

    • http://www.masterd.gr Bill

      This was really helpfull. These days, it can be handy to have in mind ways to be flexible with the companies you work for.

    • http://www.enteradulthood.com Diana Antholis

      What is your experience?

  • Kelly Hayes

    This is great stuff. I’m trying to transition from working in athletics communications and web management to something outside of the sports realm and finding that seeing only athletics experience makes companies ignore the fact that I have the skill set for the job.

    • http://justruthings.com Ruth A. Harper

      Athletics is a good example because it’ an extremely popular niche. In the end, though, your communication skills and experience should be able to bring you through any job. If you stress that in your resume, cover letter and interview, I think you’d have a good chance!

  • Jrandom42

    Interesting. But how do you break into an unfamiliar field where none of your core skills transfer to a meanful degree?

    For example, I’m an IT pro with several years of experience. How would I be able to transfer that experience in something like, a mechanic for a Formula One racing team? And what do you do when you run into an almost vertical learning curve once you’re on the job?

    • http://justruthings.com Ruth A. Harper

      Well, some jobs, such as a mechanic job, that requires specific technical knowledge would obviously require additional training. The point I was trying to make is if you have something like IT or marketing or accounting,etc., you could break into another industry. You’d still be doing the same types of tasks, just for a different industry. For example, going from being an IT professional at Apple to an IT professional for a construction company is much different from going from IT professional at Apple to mechanic. It can be done with a little education (formal or otherwise), but something that requires an entirely new skills set will require additional education and experience, in my opinion.

    • http://www.limessoft.com Djordje Djokic

      If you are changing to something completely new, then you have to start from the root. You will not be able to start as Mechanic for a Formula One racing team, but as apprentice with local mechanic.

    • http://www.enteradulthood.com Diana Antholis

      In that case, as others said, you do have to start from the bottom. Anyone who has worked can transfer general knowledge skills of how to work in a team, etc, but you would have to look into shadowing opportunities, certificates, or going back to school.

  • http://entryleveldilemma.blogspot.com Edward – Entry Level Dilemma

    I graduated with a very generic science degree, so I don’t have a lot of experience in any field and (what I kick myself for) didn’t take any internships. It’s been two years now and still no job in my primary interest (water resources) and no full-time job in my secondary interest (horticulture, which I at least have experience for).

    I really like this list, but I haven’t been able to find anyone online who is talking about water resources.

    • http://justruthings.com Ruth A. Harper

      Thanks for reading and sorry to hear you haven’t found a job yet! Are you looking in a particular location? I know it can be difficult to find certain jobs in certain locations. Or, you could try looking around for another science-related field that would interest you :)

      • http://entryleveldilemma.blogspot.com Edward – Entry Level Dilemma

        Actually, Colorado is a great place to be for water resources. It’s actually where the water rights schema used by western states was first originated. My issue has mostly been the entry level dilemma. As with most fields these days, jobs just don’t exist to start you off when you only have a basic framework of skills and need to learn the specifics. “Entry level” jobs require that you have prior experience to hit the ground running.

        • http://justruthings.com Ruth A. Harper

          That makes sense. If I were you, I would do everything I could to get experiences that I could translate into a dream job. See my comment above about volunteering or interning. Even starting out with a desired employer in a lower position and then working your way to the position you want when it becomes available and you have a bit more working experience.

          • http://entryleveldilemma.blogspot.com Edward – Entry Level Dilemma

            Any advice on accomplishing this? I’ve yet to see an internship that didn’t require you being a student or fit other very specific requirements and haven’t been able to get my foot in the door to volunteer either.

          • http://justruthings.com Ruth A. Harper

            First off, I’d say network as if your life depended on it. Do some basic online research to find what nonprofits are located in your area and consider reaching out to them with what you have to offer. There are also volunteer “opportunity banks” out there that can help you find opportunities. VolunteerMatch.org is a national one, but I found a volunteer position on a local (to NY) one not long ago, so it wouldn’t hurt to look for local ones, either. I know it’s tough, but if you just stay positive and keep going, I believe everything will work out. Also keep in mind that, as unfair as it is, there is a certain degree of luck, or serendipity, involved. Kind of a right place, right time kind of thing. But the more people you get to know in your industry (online or in person), the more likely you are to run into opportunities “by chance.” Good luck and hope this helps!

          • http://entryleveldilemma.blogspot.com Edward – Entry Level Dilemma

            Networking over 2 years has dug up 3 people in my field who have all refused to meet in person and provided a total of 1 referral

          • http://justruthings.com Ruth A. Harper

            Interesting. It sounds like you may have begun to lose hope, if you will. It might be a good idea to shift toward another area. For example, I have an uncle who graduated with a degree in geology (back in the 1980s). He couldn’t find a steady, full-time job, so finally he decided to get his teaching degree. He now teaches high school science and loves it. Just thought I’d share that story. Keep pushing and I believe something will work out. Best of luck.

          • http://entryleveldilemma.blogspot.com Edward – Entry Level Dilemma

            Actually, teaching was the direction that I shifted FROM. A bit of a long story but thanks for the help.

    • Dave Ellis – YouTern

      You took some of the words right out of my… keyboard… Edward. I was going to suggest that internships are a fantastic resource for not only trying out a new industry to get a feel for it, but also to gain some experience.

      • http://entryleveldilemma.blogspot.com Edward – Entry Level Dilemma

        Unfortunately, internships are generally only for students, so once you are out of school, you are SOL.

        • http://justruthings.com Ruth A. Harper

          That’s true they are generally for students, but it wouldn’t hurt to look at them because sometimes they do take graduates. Another thing for college graduates to consider is volunteer or pro-bono work. Working without pay is obviously not ideal, but it could help to improve your chances in the long run.

          • http://www.enteradulthood.com Diana Antholis

            I was going to mention the same – volunteering. That way you can get specific and gain experience.

  • Stoprisk

    This is great advice.
    Anyone interested in a new career in the road safety industry is welcome to email me.
    stoprisk.fr.gd
    stoprisk@live.com

  • http://twitter.com/Michaeldvorscak Michael Dvorscak

    This is good advice, depending on the nature of the industry, it may be possible to develop a portfolio or moonlight in the field.

  • http://twitter.com/JeffCasmer JeffCasmer

    This is a fantastic article. I was in the sales/retail industry and hired hundreds of people for jobs in various companies and you must be confident. I can smell someone who is not confident in an interview a mile away. It doesn’t matter what kind of resume you have.

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  • http://www.limessoft.com Djordje Djokic

    You have to be willing to learn and that is they key. Of course, it is easier when you can use some of the skills you already have.

  • http://twitter.com/kaleighsomers kaleigh somers

    I love that you mention your college newspaper. I’m an editor for the paper and feel like I learn so much just by reporting on and editing stories about a variety of topics–not only legal cases, but everything from energy efficient cars to the history of the university. And it’s a quick turn-around. The personalization is key, too. And if you have experience in marketing, don’t forget you’re still applying for a marketing position, just in a capacity you’re less familiar with. If you’re willing to learn, do the research and make sure they know that.

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  • http://www.enteradulthood.com Diana Antholis

    Hi Ruth, this is a great article. You outlined a few simple, but highly effective ways to change careers. Sometimes people need help noticing how their current skills can translate to a new career.

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