5 Steps To Take When Switching Industries
I believe strongly that you can have many careers in one lifetime. And as someone who has already switched jobs multiple times myself, I've learned a few tips for switching industries along the way. If you have a passion you want to explore that's different from your current job, I would definitely recommend taking these steps. You never know what it might lead to or how all your interests will tie together one day.
Though I'm still early in my own career, I've seen that switching industries is not only doable but also has a lot of benefits. Over the past four years, I've worked as an editorial assistant for an academic journal, a psychology and robotics researcher, a marketer for a tech startup, and a freelance writer and editor. I've enjoyed all of these jobs in different ways, and they've all influenced one another. For example, I can now write informed articles about the tech industry and cover psychology studies. I plan to try many more things by the time I retire, if I ever do, and I know there are a lot of resources out there to help me (and you!) do it.
Here are a few things that I found helpful when switching industries.
1. Educate Yourself
You don't need a formal education to enter a field, but it does help to at least do some independent research and even take a class or two. As I was starting my marketing job, I took Introduction to Marketing on Coursera (a site with a lot of helpful free courses), and when I first got into journalism, I spent one night a week workshopping my writing at Sue Shapiro's Instant Gratification Takes Too Long class. I didn't study journalism or marketing in school, though. Employers often care more about what you know than what degrees you have, so don't be discouraged if you've learned independently. And have fun with it! While preparing to work in human-robot interactions, I actually got a lot out of reading science fiction.
Another benefit to educating yourself is that it can rule out certain industries. For example, I also took a class on counseling and psychotherapy at a local university and realized I wasn't that excited about it at that time. If I change my mind in the future, though, now I know something about it, so it's a win-win.
Networking might feel a little sleazy or awkward, but it opens so many doors, and there are polite ways to do it. Every time I've wanted to get a new job, I've messaged people on LinkedIn like crazy, and it's worked. One job offer I received started off with a friend making a LinkedIn introduction to an HR manager. Another began when I asked to speak with a fellow alum of my college about her career path. (If you're not using LinkedIn's "Find Alumni" feature, you definitely should be.) We kept in touch, and when there was an internship open at the magazine she worked for, I was one of the first to find out. Another alum I found on LinkedIn gave me advice on where to submit my writing, and it led to one of my biggest freelance gigs.
But as I said, there's definitely a right and wrong way to do this. Do not, for example, email someone out of the blue and ask them to help you find a job. Instead, compliment their work, talk about something you have in common, and if you can, offer to buy them coffee while you talk about their industry. They're still entitled to say "no," but either way, at least they won't feel taken advantage of.
3. Join Communities
From Meetups to Facebook groups, there are lots of industry-specific communities online and offline. I, for example, got some great advice by posting questions in a Facebook group for freelance writers — before I even became one. There's no harm in joining a community for an industry you're not yet part of. Sometimes, you've got to fake it until you make it.
4. Apply For Jobs — Lots Of Them
When you're searching for new jobs, cast a wide net. It's better to have several options and decide which ones you find most exciting than to narrow them down right away. When I decided I might like to work in tech, I applied for pretty much all entry-level jobs that even slightly fit my background. It was much easier to make a decision after I had interviews and got an offer than it was when the opportunities were still vague and very abstract. You never know what might appeal to you once you learn more about it!
5. Talk To Others In The Industry
Whether you realize it or not, you probably have friends or at least friends of friends who work in the industry you want to enter. Take advantage of that and get their advice at every stage of the process. Ask them which positions might fit your interests, what you should know before you go into an interview, how to prepare for your first day on the job, and what career paths it might lead to. Your relationships are your biggest asset when it comes to your career, so make sure to both form new ones and nurture the ones you have.