“How do I prepare to move into a new industry?”

Get advice from the Owen community and experts on business and career issues. First up: How to transition to a new industry.

From the Winter 2013 edition of Vanderbilt Business

“I am successful in my field, but I’d like to transition into a different industry. What advice do you have for me? Are there standard things I can do? What do I need to do to prepare and to make the move?
Signed, Ready for a New Challenge

To answer “Ready for a New Challenge’s” question, Vanderbilt Business turned to the Owen community out in the field and here on campus. Here’s their advice.

Anne Marie Mills, MBA’13, senior consultant at Capgemini Consulting, wrote on LinkedIn.

Research, research, research followed closely by network, network, network. I made the switch from engineering to human capital by understanding my future industry and what I could offer from my past. I was fortunate enough to find an internship at a technical company that allowed me to bridge the gap between engineering and HR in a very concrete way. Then I was able to sell those skills for a full-time position. When you’re at Owen, there are a ton of resources at your fingertips and I tried to use as many as possible along the way. Now I hope I can help others!

Danielle Jones, MBA’13, human resources consultant at Bank of America, also responded via LinkedIn.

Switching careers or industries starts with identifying the “six degrees of separation” between you and the opportunity you’re seeking. It’s important that a candidate identify the relevant skills, experiences and qualities needed to break into the sought-after industry, and more important, how their previous experiences, education and background transfer to a value-add in that industry. Once you can begin to identify what it takes to break into that industry and how your current profile sets you up to do so, you can begin to connect the dots and tackle those degrees of separation. In some instances, it’s merely selling your transferable skills and networking; in some cases, it involves seeking out completely new opportunities and experiences as a steppingstone. Either way, it’s important to understand where you are, where you want to go, and develop a road map for how to get there.

Debbie Clapper recently retired as associate director, executive and alumni career services at the Career Management Center

Over the years, Debbie helped a lot of Owen alumni transition to new jobs and careers. She says that this question is one she heard frequently—maybe even the most—from Owen alumni. Here’s her advice and answer:

Dear Ready for a New Challenge:
I heard this question, or something similar, many times during my coaching sessions with alums. If you have effectively managed your professional growth and your career path, it is possible to find yourself currently in a role or field where you find great satisfaction and success. Opportunities for additional professional growth can be found in applying or transferring your skills and competencies to a new industry. The advice that Anne Marie and Danielle provided is spot on: Research, network and connect the dots. I would add to this great advice these tactics:

  • In your research, collect job descriptions of representative roles or jobs in the targeted industry. Create a table. In the left column, add all the listed job requirements. In the right column, add what you offer as evidence or proof that you possess this skill, knowledge or experience.
  • Identify those boxes where you have a gap. Can you substitute a similar skill or experience?
  • Network with your one- and two-degree-of-separation contacts to gain their perspectives on filling the gaps.
  • Some methods for filling the gaps include:
    • Take a new position within your current industry that will allow you to develop competency or experience that the new industry requires. Do you need project management or process improvement skills to be more attractive to the target industry? Can you gain these in your current industry?
    • Take a position in a company or industry that touches your desired industry. I have alums who would like to work in the luxury car industry. An interim step might be to take a position with a vendor or supplier to the luxury car industry.
    • The target industry may have some type of certification that is expected. Some examples I have seen are PMP, Six Sigma or CFA. Go ahead and prequalify.
    • Gain some kind of industry exposure via community involvement. Serving on a board or committee for the American Heart Association or something similar may provide enough health exposure to get you through a health care door.
  • Research the targeted industry. What are the current challenges? Be specific about how your skills and experiences can help address this specific challenge.
  • Don’t assume that the industry will see the obvious transferability of your expertise. You must be clear in the specifics and provide real examples of accomplishments and how these are needed in the targeted industry. You might write, “My past experience leading soldiers in combat situations developed my ability to make difficult decisions quickly with whatever data was available” or “Serving as a research analyst for the media industry developed my ability to craft a comprehensive picture of a company. It is this same ability to quickly understand a company that will transfer to an internal corporate development role.”
  • Use the Owen network to help change industries. Who do you know in the targeted industry? Will any of these contacts open the door and pull you in? They might if they know you. They won’t if you are a stranger. NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK.
  • There are executive search firms that specialize in specific industries. Research these and see if you can find an internal contact at one of these.
  • Add the ingredient of time! I am often surprised at how many times a random event or encounter leads to the opening of a career door. These encounters can’t be rushed.

You already are ahead of the game by asking what you must do for a transition. Good luck!

Debbie Clapper, Owen

Have a burning career or management question? Wish you could get advice from an Owen professor or experienced fellow alum? Now you can. Vanderbilt Business has launched a new advice feature, “Dear Owen.” Send a question via email to owenmagazine@vanderbilt.edu or use social media. We’ll also post a request for questions on Facebook and LinkedIn several times a year. Post your questions and we’ll provide answers in a future issue of the magazine.