How Easy Is It To Switch Industries?

CNN.com is running a story today on the dismal job market, reaffirming that unemployment is at a 25-year low.  What’s interesting about their coverage, however, is that they suggest job seekers break out of their shells and apply for jobs in other industries.  Apparently, the markets that are relatively strong are healthcare, energy, agriculture, education and government. (Sorry, media and entertainment are not in this grouping.)

CNN.com goes on to quote John Challenger, CEO of a recruiting firm, as saying that job seekers have to “focus on core skills” and that we should package ourselves according to our functions/capabilities vs. our industries.  I found this to be interesting.  True on one level, and on another, completely false.

Case in point.  Last night I had drinks with a few women.  One of them was telling me how her husband has been out of work since December. He’s in computers and has always worked in the financial industry.  Since the financial sector is in the tank, she has suggested to her husband that perhaps he should look beyond finance – that his skills transcend that particular business.  He refuses.  I’ll assume that at some point this particular person will realize he might not have a choice.  He’s at a senior level and can most likely transfer his management skills in running an IT team to a different environment.

Sometimes, however, it’s not that easy — especially in our business.  Over the years, I’ve had many people contact me looking to transition into media sales or marketing.  Inevitably I tell them that I can’t help them.  First of all, when it comes to sales, my clients want feet on the street. They don’t want to train people about the business or teach them which agencies carry what accounts.  They most often want someone with experience in certain areas.  For example, a health website would want to hire an Account Executive who has called on Consumer Packaged Goods or Pharmaceutical accounts.   If a Director-level or VP-level candidate contacts me and wants to transition into media, it’s also a bit like fitting a square peg into a round hole.  How can a hiring manager rationalize bringing someone aboard with no industry experience whatsoever to manage a staff of junior folks who know the business and inevitably will have to train upwards in the chain of command?  The new guy will feel inept and his staff will resent having to be managed by someone who knows less then them.

As a human being, I think it’s important that we all “go for it” in terms of changes we wish to pursue in our lives.  I always tell recruiting candidates and resume clients this.  However, there are a few major caveats here. You must be willing to handle an awful lot of rejection.  You gotta be patient.  And, if you want to change industries, don’t expect a recruiter to help you. Our clients pay us to find them the perfect candidate, not one that might possibly fit with a little bit of TLC.  Your best bet is to network, network, network…

Carpe diem…

One Response

  1. Very insightful and helpful article. I appreciate that, as a recruiter, you want people who are right for the job and have relevant experience.

    The Catch 22 for many people is they are being forced to switch careers. And that often means re-training. And that can be a problem because, financially, people may not have months or years to devote to a new direction because they have to put bread on the table now.

    You’re absolutely right to say networking is vital and a warm introduction is better than an ice cold one. You have to network but that can take time to bear fruit as well.

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