Getting Beyond Industry Barriers

Industry barriersRight now, many parts of the country are enjoying relatively low unemployment rates.  In my home state Massachusetts, for example, the rate is 3.3 percent, the lowest in 15 years.

For anyone contemplating a career move, this should come as good news.  As workers get harder to find, employers need to be more creative in hiring talent.  We counsel our clients all the time to consider candidates who have transferable skills from another industry and this should be a good time for anyone hoping to make this kind of move.

The reality, however, is that industry barriers persist.  In much professional hiring (certainly in hiring legal talent where I spend most of my time), hiring managers have a strong preference for seeing resumes of candidates who have industry experience.  This is particularly true in the bio/pharma space, an important sector in my region.

For highly technical jobs, the barriers are not simply arbitrary.  Having a good understanding of how a particular business functions can be critical to doing an effective job.  But for many job functions, the particulars of the industry are relatively easy to pick up.

So why do so many employers insist on industry experience?  In my opinion, it has to do with managing risk.  No one wants to be responsible for making a bad hire.  If you hire someone and they prove ineffective in their role, the last thing you want to have to do is justify that you hired someone who had never worked in the industry.

Does this mean we are all forever stuck with whatever industry hires us in our first job?  Of course not.  Many people change industries (including lawyers and other professionals).  But what are some of the things you can do to increase your chances of making the move?

Probably the most important thing you can do in trying to make an industry change is to network effectively.  If you rely only on posted jobs and submit resumes and cover letters without any follow up, you are limiting your chances of breaking through the “noise”.  Instead, if you want to switch from financial services to the life sciences, for example, find people you know who work in life sciences.  Use  your network to get introductions.  Connect with people who already know the quality of your work and your reputation.  Leverage your contacts to get in front of hiring managers who are in a position to hire you.  If you get introductions from people who can vouch for you, the hiring manager will be more likely to overlook the fact that you have not worked in their space.

While it may not be feasible for everyone, filling a role as an independent contractor is another way to gain industry experience.  Employers tend to be much less strict about requiring industry experience when they hire on a contract basis.  Find a good contract role at a good company and suddenly you become someone with industry experience.

Relatively speaking, times are good now.  If you are thinking about shifting gears, take advantage of the economy.  But don’t just fire off resumes.  That may not be enough to get you in the door.