10 Tried-and-True Tips for Switching Industries

Many IT professionals on the hunt for a new job are considering moving to a different industry. Veteran IT leader Marc Hopkins, who has worked in a variety of industries, shares his advice and lessons learned for making a seamless industry switch.

By J. Marc Hopkins
Fri, October 16, 2009

CIO — With the economic recession wreaking havoc on the financial services, automotive, retail and other industries, many IT professionals in those markets who've been laid off are considering an industry switch to open up their job searches.

Indeed, many career experts are urging job seekers to apply for jobs in the few industries that are growing or are poised for growth despite the recession, such as green energy and technology, education, and healthcare. They say diversifying one's job search will increase their odds of landing a new job more quickly.

But switching industries can be an uphill battle for IT job seekers. Companies often don't want to hire executives outside of their industries because it increases their risk. Hiring any executive is a high-risk and costly endeavor, so employers want to make sure that whomever they hire is right, can hit the ground running, and doesn't need to come up to speed. Consequently, that often means that employers seek candidates with experience specific to their industry. (Of course, there are times when a company specifically seeks an industry outsider to bring in a fresh perspective.)

Despite the challenges associated with switching industries, doing so is not impossible. I have worked in multiple vertical markets, including broadcasting, retail, manufacturing and education. Recently, I moved from healthcare to educational publishing. I found this particular transition very challenging, but from this—and other—experiences, I learned several valuable lessons about moving from one industry to another. I hope my lessons will help you move into a new industry and make your transition a seamless one.

[ For more tips from J. Marc Hopkins, see his blog entry on switching industries. ]

1. Immerse Yourself

If you're hunting for a job in a new vertical market, consider spending a week or two in the new environment. Consulting or unpaid internships are options to consider if you have the opportunity and the means. As an experienced IT leader, your expertise is extremely valuable to many organizations. Have you overseen an ERP conversion? That large-scale project management expertise sets you apart. For every vertical market, there is a company struggling with a problem you've already solved.

This is how I got into publishing, health care and education. I had experience that a company in those markets found beneficial, and a conversation with the head of each organization led to those opportunities.

Start by reaching out to your existing professional network. When I engineered my transition to higher education, I sought out colleagues who taught at colleges and universities, and I talked to them about their experiences and challenges. Through those conversations, I got the chance to guest-lecture for one of my professional colleagues as an IT industry expert. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and it led to further introductions to other professors, more discussions about higher ed's needs, and gave me the opportunity to explain how my work in publishing applied to their needs.

If you can't find connections in your professional network, social networking tools like LinkedIn and Twitter are great places to find professionals working in the vertical market you wish to enter. Using Twitter and LinkedIn, I connected with educators all over the country and learned what troubles were universal. With those insights, I developed a pitch that expressed how my experience could help them. Specifically, I explained how my experience with open source tools, web publishing and marketing was valuable to admissions professionals in higher education and how I helped colleagues build tools to measure and improve the effectiveness of their social media campaigns. They introduced me to their peers, and a new professional network was born. About two weeks into my social media campaign, I started to get recognized as an industry expert, even though I had never worked in the industry. I simply joined the conversation, contributed where I could, and respected those who were already there.

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