Changing Industries in Changing Times
By Thiyagarajakumar Ramaswamy, CEO/Director/Coach/Mentor/Think Tank

The federal government recently announced that they expect America's unemployment rate to remain elevated through at least 2011, and that the economy could shrink by 1.3 percent in 2009. Industrial production, a key indicator of America's economic health, dropped 1.8 percent in January 2009 alone. Looking down the barrel of the worst economic contraction in 27 years, some policymakers believe that it will be many years before our nation fully recovers from the current recession.

Facing this bleak economic outlook, senior executives in some sectors are finding themselves up against a weighty career decision: Is it time to seek out a new career in an entirely different industry?

One of the questions that Leadership Stage India often hears from senior executives is, "How do I make a switch into a different industry or role?" While search firms are not a good source of jobs for people switching careers - our clients are looking for individuals that exactly match their requirements - we can offer several guidelines that may help you find your niche in another industry:

1. Realistically assess your transferable experience and skills. The most successful type of career change involves remaining in the same function but transferring your skills to a different industry. Be prepared for the possibility of a longer job search.

2. At most, focus on two to three industries as targets. Start by looking at industries where you have experience and the roles in which you have proven yourself. Research industry trade publications and business news resources, and get familiar with:
  • Current challenges and opportunities
  • Key players, prospects, problems and culture
  • Current news and issues affecting the industry
  • Industry terms, language and buzzwords
  • Industry metrics: is it growing or contracting?
To help determine if an industry may be right for you, try your hand at consulting work to ensure that your skills are transferable. Focus on small and mid-sized companies that typically don't have the bench strength to fill key roles.

3. Determine what special value you bring to the table. Thoroughly understand what your prior industry experience has in common with the targeted industry. Use the language of the new industry to reinforce the relevance of your career accomplishments. Translate your functional expertise into terms that will be meaningful to those in the new industry, with particular emphasis on quantifiable accomplishments and achievements using dollar amounts, percentages and other figures.

Ask yourself: What makes you stand out? What makes you uniquely qualified over another candidate with specific industry background? Industry changers frequently bring the advantage of a fresh perspective and can use their experience to find new solutions. For example, you may be able to provide:
  • Turnaround or restructuring experience
  • Acquisition or merger expertise
  • Experience in taking a company public
  • A reputation as a "rainmaker" with an exceptional ability to attract clients, use political connections or increase profits
  • Sought-after contacts and connections
  • Skills earned as "best of breed" in a highly recognized organization, regardless of industry
Remember, a final hiring decision will be made based on who was the most convincing that they could produce results or will bring in a viable solution.

4. Focus on building a network in the targeted industries. Networking is the most effective way to get your foot in the door of a new industry. Join organizations where you will meet contacts, and attend conferences and trade shows. Consider working on a not for profit board or committee as a way to gain valuable contacts. Companies are more willing to take risks on someone referred to them by individuals who can attest for the individual's abilities and potential.

Whether a career switch is voluntary or forced, it's a complex and difficult journey. But if you're finding that opportunities are limited in your current industry, a switch may be the right move to get your career going again.