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Trying to Switch Industries & What Skills Transfer

You may have heard “We want someone with ______ industry experience” when looking at a role.  Take heart, it can happen as I have worked in commercial travel, financial services, SaaS, telecommunications, IT service, temporary labor staffing and Data Centers.

What Skills Transfer between Industries

We all believe we can succeed because our skill set will transfer intact.  As each of my industries have been very different in size, scope, regulatory, competition and technology, let me share what I believe transfers well.

  • Understanding the business model – This is simply your ability to understand how an industry works and how the company makes money. Most people figure out how a business makes money pretty quick.  Generally speaking, each area of the business has 3-4 key items to understand.
  • Technical skills – While the application of the skills may differ, the understanding of the technical skills (e.g. marketing, accounting, etc.) for your professional move across.
  • Communication and Personal skills – These are the skills and experiences that make you truly unique from other candidates, so they transfer very well. Again, how you apply them will be different, but usually it’s these skills on what seals the deal when getting hired.

What does not transfer between industries?

After reading what does transfer it’s hard not to think “So what’s the big deal?  Why are people hung up on experience?   What am I missing?”

Here it is: An intuitive sense of the business.

When switching industries you must learn the language, trends, competitive forces, etc.  When someone says “ABC Company just raised their price 2%” – you will not know how to react, because you need to learn what the price change means.  Within your first year, you’ll encounter this dozens of times (if not more).

While a new perspective or outside view is always a benefit, you need to recognize that it is difficult to be as efficient as others until you learn the industry.  Also, people feel more comfortable with those who understand the business already, especially if the business is in trouble and they need to act fast.

Changing industries takes pre-work.  Starter steps for pursuing a new industry:

  • First, before you start applying for roles within the industry, meet someone from the inside to determine if its culture and style fit you. Trust me; the view from the outside is often different from the inside, especially when it comes to how your role is viewed or allowed to engage.   I have witnessed Product Marketing be a strategic leader in some firms and purely support in another – as the needs and norms of the industry were very different.
  • Second, invest time into learning the industry before you focus too heavily on a given set of companies. Having an overall picture of the industry will help you understand the company’s role inside it.  You may find the role a company in this industry is very similar to the one you are in today, but just serving a different industry – a good example is a distribution firm.

o   I find that visually mapping out the industry is incredibly useful in seeing the interrelationships and dependencies for serving customers.

o   I’ve had colleagues attend industry events, supplier meetings, join industry groups on LinkedIn (to view discussions), etc. as part of their learning efforts.

  • Third, in your pitch the skills to emphasize are living through a major industry shift, launching a new business, working in different geographies – basically, anything that shows you understand the challenges of making a change and have been successful in doing so.

o   Also, if you’ve learned the major drivers of their industry, don’t be shy in letting them know you’ve done your homework.

  • Fourth, have a plan of how to learn the industry for once you land. Go back to your industry insider for tips on how best do so.  Your potential employer will expect you to have the plan – so bringing one to the interview garners some kudos.

Good luck today.



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