“I’m looking for a job. I’m ready to switch industry.”

“I’m looking for a job. I’m ready to switch industry.”

Statements like these have become much more frequent in recent years, propelled, to some extent, by a genuine desire to switch industries/occupations or seek out new professional challenges, but also by the many changes that have been sweeping the labor market in the wake of technological progress, the development of AI, and broader adoption of automation. 

The labor market landscape is changing rather dynamically. The Fourth Industrial Revolution, also known as Industry 4.0, driven by automation and digital exchange, continues to move forward unabated. The outbreak of COVID-19 further accelerated these trends and drew considerable public attention to the physical dimension of work. Many companies found themselves forced to act much quicker than expected in terms of planned workforce transitions. The picture is rounded out by a rapidly aging population, infrastructural investments, rising income levels, climate change, booming e-commerce, and a shift toward remote work accompanied by reductions in business travel. Each of these factors may shape the changes sweeping arenas such as heavy industry, food service, civil aviation, automotive industry, and even the plain, old post.

Switching occupations or industries due to COVID-19

According to a recent McKinsey report*, as many as 25 percent more workers may need to switch occupations than before the pandemic. Much of the job growth is expected to take place in high-wage occupations, while low-wage occupations are expected to decline. Around one in sixteen workers will have to switch professions by 2030. And roughly half of the workforce will need new, more advanced skills in order to transition into higher-wage positions.

In Europe and the US, workers with less than a college degree, along with women, are more likely to need to transition to another occupation after COVID-19. In France, Germany, and Spain, the need to switch jobs is currently 3.9 times higher for women than it is for men. Likewise, the need for a change in occupation will impact younger workers far more than the elder part of the workforce.

I want to switch industry. But am I ready for that?

Before deciding to switch careers or industries, you must first ask yourself a couple of questions that will help you establish whether you truly are ready to begin the search process, which in itself may be rather lengthy:

  • Propensity for taking risks – the process is a little like skydiving. The likelihood of smashing into the ground is really low, but it’s not zero. You must ask yourself whether stepping out of your comfort zone, at this point in your professional career and given all external circumstances, including your personal situation, is something you are really okay with. Accordingly – are you ready to embrace change, along with all the consequences it may bring?
  • Warrior spirit – are you ready to take on the world? Because this will not be easy. You will definitely be met by animosity and misapprehension from head hunters and prospective employers, that’s a given.
  • Financial safety net – will help you sleep at night when you’re out of a job and looking for a new one. And a good night’s sleep is crucial for making a good impression at an interview. Assume that finding a job in a new industry might be a lengthy undertaking.

Where to start the transition process?

If you know you’re ready to make a change, what sort of efforts should you undertake in order to effect it?

  • Individual Competency Model – is a sort of competence and skill matrix that identifies a manager’s (or a candidate’s) greatest strengths. A matrix like that ought to be based on an in-depth analysis of the milestones in one’s career, successes and failures alike. Establish what your key strengths are and what sort of expertise you will be bringing into the new organization.
  • A yacht or a sailing ship – in my work I often hear folks say: “I’m interested in either a corporate job or something at a small- or medium-size company. Even a position with a start-up would be a good fit.” Yes, I do believe that some managers are capable of peak performance regardless of their particular environment. But let’s be honest – there is little chance that you’ll suddenly find yourself satisfied with a broad range of tasks extending far beyond the responsibilities that come with your new position (start-up) when one of things you appreciated most in your last job was the ability to pursue specialization in a narrow field (corporate). Draft a realistic list of preferences for company type, job character, position within the company structure, responsibilities, and degree of agency are concerned.
  • Inspiration for change and subverting stereotypes – the motivations behind a candidate’s decision to pursue a new position are a key element of any job and any headhunter worth their salt will push the question in order to clear away whatever doubts remain in their mind. You should have a clear idea of why you’re seeking to transition into a new field or industry, be able to prove its appeal and outline the value you expect to contribute despite your lack of experience. This is also your moment to disrupt the headhunter’s stereotypical thinking, who might reflexively be looking for differences instead of similarities.
  • Networking, networking, networking! – leverage your network to gain insight into the company’s organizational culture, learn about its clients, and identify the industry’s expectations. In other words – learn to speak the language of your prospective employer, identify specific patterns of action, sales channels, etc. Then use that knowledge during the interview. Explain how your past experience and skills will translate into success in your new position. Identify the advantages that elevate you above more traditional candidates.
  • Adaptability – the ability to adapt to new and different environments, working under dynamically changing conditions, multicultural teams. Use specific examples to demonstrate and prove your flexibility and openness.
  • Recommendations – serve as a rocket engine for your candidacy, but without ejecting the reaction mass rearward. On the contrary. A good contact will be a multi-use rocket that never loses its power, paves the way and provides considerable support, putting you, an industry outsider, far ahead of the competition. While a recommendation does not exactly guarantee success, it will most definitely help you disrupt stereotypical thinking and subvert preconceptions.
  • Personal rebranding – is more or less a bespoke résumé. A document like that ought to leave no doubt as to the fact that we’re dealing with a candidate possessing all the requisite skills and competencies. A résumé ought to inspire curiosity and encourage the headhunter overseeing the process to verify any lingering doubts in person. For the full package, craft a convincing personal social media presence.

What are the best directions?

The answer seems obvious, at least to us – headhunters recruiting high-level executives. You only have to look at the list of clients we’re currently running recruitment for. The top of the stack includes companies working in eCommerce, telemedicine, cutting-edge tech, and engineering, while logistics and delivery services, along with warehousing, are well on their way to the top spots.

Here, I’d like to emphasize the dynamic expansion of the IT industry, which has been demonstrating consistent growth for years, mostly in spite of the similarly consistent dearth of highly-skilled and competent talent. It was – and is – a pleasure to monitor a particular trend that first emerged in the wake of intense consolidations in the banking industry. Redundant positions, mass layoffs. As a result, the labor market was flooded with hundreds of now-jobless finance specialists. Some decided to recast themselves as financial advisors, only to quickly backtrack after realizing how saturated the financial services market actually was. Others, meanwhile, given their analytical skills and data-driven minds, opted to become programmers, launching successful coding careers, many of which continue to this day.

But circling back to skydiving – I have a ticket for a parachute jump, to be performed from a military aircraft at 4,200 meters. It was a gift from my team. I’m terribly scared by the prospect, but I will have to do it one day or else risk looking like a wimp in front of everyone. An experienced parachutist once told me of a trick he used to break through his own fear of jumping. After all, he too once had his first time in the doors of an airplane, holding onto the airframe for dear life. He said that he took a pen and wrote a reminder to himself on his shoes, so when the time came, he could look down at them and push through the fear. Patently obscene, the reminder read: “Out I go! And… f**k it!” I decided to appropriate it for my own use.

Likewise, those who decided to make a significant career switch should too, after going their own way, stand in the metaphorical airplane doors and look down at their shoes right before making the leap to forever sear those words into their memory.

And… that’s it.

*Source: https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/the-future-of-work-after-covid-19

Monika Ciesielska
President at IMSA Search Global Partners. An experienced consultant in the recruitment of the management staff, including board members, and a leader of the recruiting team in the IT/Tech area. Enthusiast of digital transformation of HR processes. Podcaster at "Skrzydlaty HR" and "Top Leaders Club".
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