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5 Steps to Make Switching Industries a Breeze

Are you thinking about making a career transition and completely switching industries? You’re not alone. People decide to move from one industry to another at any stage of their careers for many different reasons. Maybe they have graduated recently and then discovered what they expected of their first job was a myth. Or maybe their industry has imploded—financial services and the bursting housing bubble come to mind. Or it could be that they are just tired of their  job and desperately need a change after doing the same ol’ thing for years.

Those job seekers want something new, different and meaningful. Switching industries can be exciting and may energize your career. And while there is no simple formula for when and how to seamlessly move into a new industry, you can do it with guidance, research, planning and finesse.

The Switch

Finding a job is difficult enough. Finding a job in a different industry is even more tricky. Employers may find it tougher to envision the transferability of your skills when applied in a radically different industry. So, you’ll need to make a concerted effort to demonstrate your fit.

Step 1 – Be good at what you do!

Not everyone is good at what they do. If you want to make a shift to a new industry, be good at what you do or prove that you’ve recently retrained or become certified in something specifically related to the new industry. Your competence and ability to contribute fully should be without question. Freshly certified or acquired skills can help.

Recently, I worked with several clients who had solid administrative and office management skills; however, they wanted to shift industries and work in the high-demand medical field. They participated in a five-week certification program offered through the local community college. As a result, they were more favorably considered when they applied for medical office jobs and because of their previous office experience didn’t start at an entry-level wage.

Step 2 – Know your key skills and how to articulate their transferability

Whatever role you currently have, on a day-to-day basis you likely so a ton of different tasks. However, when considering this, you should keep the 80/20 rule in mind – that 20% of those tasks produce 80% of our results. These are the skills that will be the most desirable to an employer in a new industry. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What are those key skills which account for the majority of your productivity and which will carry forward to a new industry?
  • Do you enjoy using those skills?
  • Do you have solid ‘accomplishment’ stories to tell about successes when you have applied those skills?
  • Do you know if the skills are described similarly in the new or targeted industry?
  • Are you prepared to describe what you do with a potentially new vocabulary?

Allow me to share an example; When I worked at a retained search firm, we called our projects ‘searches’. Later, when I was working in a different market vertical, we referred to both ‘searches’ and ‘job orders’ depending on payment terms. The description ‘job orders’ hadn’t been used at all, previously. I learned to adjust to my new situation and to add to my vocabulary.

With my clients I recommend O*Net, an online tool for job analysis and career exploration. This wonderful online resource is great to learn how to identify, describe and articulate skills. In an upcoming post, I’ll talk more about using that rich resource. Within O*Net you identify key skills and you learn if they applied in related work within other industries. The intention here is to get to know important skills and to address how what you’ve done in the past is relevant to what you want to do in the future in your newly targeted industry.

Step 3 – Identify industries of interest and learn about them

Begin by finding job descriptions that are a match with your skills – no matter the industry. Then research the various industries by targeting deeper company research. Again, you’ll cross reference using O*Net. You’ll also do deep industry research using a variety of resources – if you don’t know how to do industry research stop at your local library and invite the business librarian to help you identify resources.

You will want to look for:

  1. What’s the industry’s outlook? Is it growing and adding jobs? How financially stable is it?
  2. Who are key employers in the industry? Do they have local branches/divisions in your area? Who are their competitors?
  3. What trends are influencing the health of the industry? Again, look for growth or possibly disruption in the future.
  4. Who are the key players; regulators, vendors/suppliers and thought leaders?

Step 4 – Reach out to thought-leaders in your new target industries

Network, network, network. The most efficient and effective way to land a job in a new industry is to network.  It also is important to have great referrals and references from thought leaders, co-workers, supervisors, vendors and clients who know your work intimately and who can speak to your outcomes and personality on the job. The informational interview is a great tool to use to learn about your industry of choice.

Step 5 – Tell a good story about your accomplishments and flexibility

There is a wonderful book by Annette Simmons, “Whoever Tells the Best Story WINS.” Simmons helps the reader learn to tell a powerful story which packs a punch, while allowing the listener to hear the storyteller in action. When telling your story to a potential employer it’s important to show that you have transferable skills that can benefit the company, but also that you are agile, adaptable and will be a solid contributor.

In a job search – especially when appealing to someone from another industry – you have to convince them that you have what it takes to add value to their business’s bottom line. You need to prove that you can increase productivity, efficiency or profitability and you have to use the terminology of their industry. Your accomplishment stories need to line up with the needs of the target hiring industry. Have clear examples of why your superior skills are easily and desirably transferred into a new experience.


Switching industries can be an exciting decision and following these steps should make it easier to take that leap. If you need a little more guidance, hiring a career coach is a great option to get that extra support. And while some functional jobs may shift more easily, such as HR, finance, marketing and public relations, that doesn’t mean you should rule out a shift if you aren’t in one of those areas.

Do your research. Talk with thought-leaders, others in your network and those who would be peers of yours if you made the transition.. You’ll want to get all the facts upfront so you can make a good decision, but making change and being good at change is a crucial skill. Those agile enough to shift into a new industry truly show up as change leaders.

About the Author Lynden Kidd

Lynden Kidd is the CEO and Chief Career Strategist with Captivating Careers. A successful and sought after executive coach, trainer, author, and speaker, she is a hiring process expert. As an accomplished career consultant, Lynden has interviewed thousands of job seekers, led more than 300 career development training sessions serving 500+ job seekers resulting in employment and enhanced job performance for hundreds of professionals.

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