Switching Industries in a Shifting Economy

Advances in technology are changing Automotive, Logistics, Retail, Finance, Health Care, and Manufacturing, among several other industries. Increasingly companies in these sectors are making adjustments to their workforces in anticipation of the changing landscape, not only through layoffs, but also through hiring new skill sets. That means, workers too must adapt, and many professionals may find themselves updating skills or using their skill sets honed through years of experience in a completely new industry.

“Not only are industries fundamentally changing the skills needed in their workforces, but new industries are emerging, either through advances in technology or loosening regulation, such as the case with the Cannabis industry or app development in the sharing economy. Meanwhile, the quits rate is at 2.3 percent with nearly 3.5 million workers quitting their jobs each month in 2019. Workers are seeing opportunities elsewhere and making the change,” said Andrew Challenger, Vice President of global outplacement and executive and business coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

Over one-third of workers switch industries during a job search. Over the last two years, nearly 34% of workers switched industries, according to survey of nearly 3,000 job seekers conducted quarterly by Challenger. The respondents range from mid-level to C-level professional in various industries nationwide.

“Changing careers is difficult and the farther you attempt to get away from your current profession, the more difficult it becomes. Making the switch from a teacher to a registered nurse or accountant, for example, would require a return to school and starting at the bottom rung of that profession’s career ladder,” said Challenger.

This type of dramatic career change tends to be more easily attainable for someone in the first five years of his or her career. For someone with 10-20 years, such a change becomes much more challenging.

For the mid- to late-career professionals, the key is to take the fundamental skills and experience you have gained and transfer them to another industry or another area within your chosen career.

“In the case of a teacher, for example, a master’s in education opens up a lot of opportunities beyond the traditional classroom setting. Regardless of the teacher’s subject area, through her education, training and experience, she has the fundamental tools necessary to teach. Those skills can be used to develop and/or deliver training material and programs to other teachers or to employees in a corporation, for example. They can be used in for-profit education firms that provide tutoring and other tailored education programs to young people who are either trying to catch up or get ahead. In addition to the core teaching fundamentals, many educators have strong writing, research, and oral communication skills. These soft skills are universally desired across industries,” said Challenger.

According to the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS), there were 62,000 quits in Educational Services in February, up from 39,000 in January.

For many professionals, it is difficult to determine where to begin the divergence from their current career path. A good place to start is by making a list of all of responsibilities and accomplishments.

“Ask yourself, what fundamental skills did it require to meet those responsibilities and achieve those accomplishments? Then write down some ideas on where you see yourself going. Figure out how your fundamental skills could apply to these new areas,” said Challenger.

For some job seekers, a 180-degree career switch may seem attractive. Being released from a position may seem to afford the opportunity to "do what I've always wanted." However, jumping at jobs which are unrelated to what the individual has done cannot only be unreasonable but can ensure a long and disappointing job search. Such a job seeker is competing against others who are already experienced in that area.

“From the employer's standpoint, there may be little contest between the job seeker who has the desired experience and the one who only has aspirations. The company seeking a sales manager is not likely to hire someone with the background of manufacturing manager to fill that position. Since any business is run with an eye toward obtaining people with the right skills, the job seeker's only real currency in the marketplace is based on his or her experience,” said Challenger.

“Switching industries may also come with a cut in pay, as the professional often needs to start toward the bottom of the ladder. That is why careful consideration of all options is required, and professionals must be able to articulate their skills that are compatible with a new industry,” said Challenger.

“Changing your career path or changing industries often takes a certain amount of creativity. You have to think about your skill sets from a new perspective and then consider all the different ways those skills can be applied to new and perhaps non-traditional areas. However, you cannot be so creative that prospective employers cannot imagine it. Remember, in the end, you have to be able to explain to employers why your skills and experience make you a good fit for their organization. If the connection does not make sense to them, then the job search will not be successful,” he added.

Tips For Switching Industries/Careers

  • Cast A Wide Net. Consider many different industries because casting the widest net possible will greatly improve one’s chance of success. Job seekers should realize that they can take their base skills, whether it is in project management, information technology, or marketing, and apply them to any number of industries. There is no reason a marketing manager for a manufacturer of brake parts cannot shift his or her skills to become a marketing manager for a hotel or a hospital.
  • Relate Your Specific Accomplishments for Each of Your Past Employers. Do not just write down or name a list of companies for which you have worked. Tell the employer how each experience helped you in your next job. Employers by and large understand and accept the concept that individuals make controlled changes as stepping stones to advancement.
  • Apply Your Experiences to the New Position. Describe/explain how your past experiences will translate well to the position for which you are interviewing. You do not want it to appear that you have had several disjointed jobs that have nothing to do with the job responsibilities for which you are currently interviewing.
  • Do Not Eliminate Out-of-Town Job Opportunities. In 2018, 10% of workers relocated for new employment, down from 11.2% of job seekers in 2017, according to Challenger. By refusing to extend the job search beyond your immediate metropolitan area, you reduce the possibility of rejection but also limit the effectiveness of your job search.
  • Try Consulting Work. If you are not sure switching industries is the right thing for you, try consulting or contracting work in that industry first. You may discover that this method of making a living is to your liking, gives you more freedom and provides a steady, nice income. In addition, consulting work in a new industry looks great on a resume and may aid in gaining a full-time job.