How to Break into an Unfamiliar Industry

Jul 01, 2011 -
Working in a service-focused field — such as accounting, marketing, information technology or something else — has many benefits. One is that it provides you with a skill set you can transfer to a variety of industries. But while it gives you the opportunity to work with companies focusing on different topic areas, it could mean that those areas, while interesting, aren’t aligned with your experience. Perhaps that is exactly what attracts you to the position -- the chance to dive into something new. Employers often favor candidates with some experience in the field, so how do you break into an industry that you know little to nothing about? Can it even be done? It is challenging, for sure, but it is possible. Almost a month ago, I started as the marketing communications specialist for Monroe Veterinary Associates in Rochester, N.Y. Now believe me, I'm no expert when it comes to animal health. But I do love pets (especially doggies!) and I believe in keeping them healthy, so I used that passion and my marketing expertise to get my foot in the door and land the job. Maybe you're facing a similar situation and you're applying for a job that doesn't exactly match your experience, or you're thinking about breaking into an unfamiliar industry. Here are some strategies that can help you do just that.

Research the heck out of the new industry

If there is an industry you find interesting, it shouldn’t be such a chore to do a bit of research about it. Find a trade journal or online magazine and read a few articles. A few places you might consider starting are America’s Career InfoNet and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You don't need to become an expert overnight; just be sure to pick up a few bits of information that can give you an extra edge during conversations with those currently working in the field. But please remember: secondary research only goes so far. It’s important to express your passion for and ability to learn more about the industry. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge you don’t know a ton about the area, but be sure to describe an experience that shows you know how to quickly learn new information. To prove during interviews that I can learn quickly, I talked about how I covered a few legal cases for my university’s newspaper during college, which forced me to learn (and accurately write about) complicated information on a deadline.

Talk to others in the field

These days, technology makes it easy to connect with anyone. I can almost guarantee that no matter the industry you’re considering, you can find someone in the world who’s talking about it online. You can find industry Twitter chats, LinkedIn groups or even connect with a Brazen user who works in the field. Use these tools to make professional connections with people who have experience in areas that interest you.

Exude confidence in your area of expertise

Whether you’re a marketer, accountant, financial director, IT professional or something else, you need to be able to explain how your specific skills and knowledge can apply (and add to) the company and its industry. Even if you can’t bring subject matter expertise to the position, potential employers will love that you have useful skills combined with a unique outsiders perspective.

Personalize your cover letter and rewrite your resume

Hopefully you do this already, but if not, always write cover letters and resumes based on the job descriptions. Unless your experience matches up almost word-for-word with the job at hand (and it almost never does), spell out why you’re qualified (and that includes more than work history) in a clean, professional manner using your cover letter and resume. Find a way to relate your skills and experiences to the job. For example, in the cover letter I wrote to apply for my current position, I included a sentence or two about how my family has always had a dog and how I've helped my mother with her pet-sitting business. I described my marketing communications expertise in the rest of the letter and noted how I could use those skills to help the company. A cover letter is a tool to let your personality and your passion shine. Ruth Harper is a member of the Brazen Contributor Network. The opinions in this post are her own.