By: Lawrence Alter
Don’t confuse changing careers with making an industry change. Most job seekers talk about changing careers when in reality they are only changing industries. Changing industries typically means that you will use the same skills, even though your title or responsibilities might be somewhat different, regardless of what the company does. An example might be an engineer in the automotive industry that takes an engineering position in a medical manufacturing or computer company. Changing careers, by contrast, normally means learning a new set of skills or acquiring new capabilities, either through on-the-job training or additional education. It can be the automotive engineer that decides to practice law, the accounting manager that wishes to become a commercial airline pilot, or the unemployed English teacher who goes back to school to become a computer programmer.
Not that changing industries is easy, but your chances of succeeding are a lot higher than trying to pull off a career change. Changing careers is often painful, involves significant financial sacrifice, and will undoubtedly have a major impact on family relationships and lifestyle. The most successful career changes are those where the career changer learns his or her new craft by taking advantage of government or private training programs, and has the financial resources to provide for themselves and their families while learning a new trade and then finding new employment.
The secret to successfully changing industries is to prove the value and transferability of your skills. An employer’s first reaction might be, “you spent 10 years working for an aeronautics company, what could you possibly bring to a firm that manufactures lawn equipment?” That’s a logical question. However, the astute project manager knows that all businesses face similar broad-range problems. Your goal is to demonstrate your ability to identify and solve problems and assist the company to either increase revenues and profits or decrease costs. The bottom line is that most people changing jobs or industries often think they are changing careers, but in fact are not.
If you want to change industries, then do your due diligence. Research the industry and the companies you are specifically targeting. Talk to their sales reps and customers. Find out the company’s strengths and the problems they face, and if they have a special industry niche. Learn about their competition. Gather information about their marketing concepts, method of advertising, and pricing strategy. Try to develop some specific suggestions to show the interviewer you did your research and took the time and effort to think about their problems and potential solutions. In the interview, try to ascertain as much information as possible regarding the company’s needs, problems they face, what they are specifically looking for in an employee, and something about their corporate culture and the personality of the manger to whom you would respond. Then focus the presentation of your skills to point out commonalities between your experiences and how your skills might benefit them. A good way of doing this would be to use one or two short stories as examples to illustrate how you may have solved similar problems to the ones they face. We suggest you do this through the CAR method.
The CAR method is a short story told in two or three minutes to illustrate your problem solving skills. It follows the following format:
C = Conditions: Briefly talk about the condition that existed, the situation or circumstances that required action on your part, or the problem you needed to resolve.
A = Action: Give a short synopsis of the actions you took to change or improve the conditions or solve the problems.
R = Results: Finally tell them the results or consequences of your actions. Try to quantify by using percentages or dollar amounts, e.g. dollars saved, increase in sales, decrease in operating expenses, etc.
If you wish to change careers, then thoroughly research the industry and position of choice so that you can make informed decisions regarding your future. Get the facts on the education, experience, and any other requirements necessary to qualify you for the position you seek. If additional education is a prerequisite, then ask whether or not the school or training facility assists you in finding employment on completion of your schooling. Do you have the resources to survive financially until you have qualified for your new career and found new employment? Determine if your new chosen career will provide you with enough income to live comfortably, and then seek out a mentor in that industry to serve as a personal advisor. Most importantly do you have the desire, the motivation, and the tenacity to follow your new path to its successful conclusion, and will you have the support of your family – it will be stressful for them as well.
“Author Lawrence Alter is president of L.D.A. Enterprises, Ltd.; a Minneapolis based outplacement and career management firm. He is a recognized expert in career growth techniques. Send ideas or questions via email to: LDA@EmploymentClinic.com. Website address: www.EmploymentClinic.com