Changing Careers: What Does Your Outside Expertise Mean to Employers’ Success?

By Debra Feldman

Taking your professional experience and knowledge to a different industry sector, or even to a different role within your current industry, can be a welcome change on personal and professional levels.  But those who may choose to seek a new career path may encounter resistance from risk-averse employers who must be convinced that hiring someone with no direct experience will be a good decision.

No Experience = Fresh Perspective + New Ideas

Rather than perceiving any lack of direct experience as a disadvantage, emphasize the fresh ideas, new relationships, enthusiasm and different perspective that you will bring to the job — all of which will add value to the employer organization, not only by increasing profits, reducing costs and/or improving processes, but also by boosting morale and performance.

How many times have you witnessed new ideas get shouted down by the “been-there-tried-that” crowd? Newcomers to an organization or even a department are in a unique position to pioneer breakthroughs and solve challenges.  It’s said that there is nothing new under the sun; adapting techniques that have been effective elsewhere is a good start to addressing  a problem.

Every candidate — especially those who do not match the employer’s job description requirements — must demonstrate he or she matches the employer’s definition of the necessary ability, that he is committed to productivity, and will hit the ground running without a potentially costly learning curve. During a job seeking campaign, the employers are the customers and they want proof before hiring. It’s up to you — the candidate — to demonstrate that your knowledge and skills are credible and are worthy of the employer’s trust.

Hiring decision-makers prefer bringing in new employees whom they believe will be productive right out of the gate, fit into the office’s culture, be familiar with the industry jargon and idiosyncrasies, understand the competitive environment, and be knowledgeable about everything unique to their specific sector. Employers are not satisfied with obviously transferable skills; they demand proof documented by success stories and relevant accomplishments.  In other words,” show, don’t tell.” Tell them about how you put ten pounds in a five pound sack and chances are they’ll believe you can load five pounds in a two and one-half pound one for them.


How do you get an interview without the experience?

It’s nearly impossible to get an interview for a job outside of your bailiwick based on a resume submission, especially when the employer is already being inundated with resumes from “more qualified” candidates. Decision-makers need help visualizing how you fit in. And without experience, such reassurances cannot be communicated effectively through a resume or online profile. But a personal recommendation from a trusted source carries far more weight and can help get the non-traditional candidate through the door. How do you get to know trusted sources within places that you would like to work? Networking. Networking, including a personalized endorsement, is the very best job lead referral source for career changers.

To overcome employer resistance, start by learning what the employer thinks they need in an ideal hire.  This data is in the job description requirements which indicates what knowledge, skills and experience the employer believes are necessary for success. Address each point by describing your qualifications, with examples of achievements corresponding to each qualification. Alternatively, detail trade-off skills and accomplishments which demonstrate qualifications beyond what the employer sets as minimum requirements. You are delivering unexpected, bonus capabilities. The idea is not to question or diminish any of the employer’s requirements, but to show that you have other competencies that enhance your potential value, and emphasize these trade-offs as even better than the original expectations. Remember that as the prospective employee, your goal is to reassure the employer that you are a risk-free hire, not a troublemaker. If you can show that you are a successful leader/manager/profit generator/cost cutter/team player/individual contributor, etc., then the employer has proof of your strengths and can rely on you to repeat your success.

As the candidate, it is your responsibility to quell the employer’s concerns and demonstrate that you are prepared, eager, and the right choice for the team.  You must assure the employer that the additional skills, knowledge, talent, experience, etc., plus initiative and enthusiasm you will bring to the organization more than offsets any possible weaknesses or deficiencies. Employers must be convinced that any new hire is up to the challenges and will not burden the organization with a slow learning curve or serious and costly mistakes. Putting some skin in the game, tying compensation to performance, setting ambitious milestones, etc. plus support from a trusted mutual contact can convert a skeptical employer to give a unique candidate the offer.

As an outsider, you do not bring the same negative baggage as individuals steeped in the industry, who are perhaps reluctant to try anything less than a sure thing.  You come to your new assignment with a positive attitude, psyched for the change. You know you have skills and are eager to get to work and own the challenge. You’ve purposefully sought out this role and it complements your interests and supports your career goals. You have what it takes to be successful and bonus competencies on top of the basics. That means you are worth to the organization at least as much as any candidate who only has the basic qualifications. There is no comparing apples to oranges, but you can make a convincing argument that you are worth at least as much as anyone with the same authority and responsibilities.

Debra Feldman, founder of JobWhiz, is an executive talent agent with more than 20 years of senior management consulting experience. She uses networking to identify and connect candidates with unadvertised new career opportunities in the hidden job market. Trail @Debra_Feldman on Twitter or LIKE JobWhiz on Facebook.


Guest Contributor

IEEE-USA is an organizational unit of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), created in 1973 to support the career and public policy interests of IEEE’s U.S. members. IEEE-USA is primarily supported by an annual assessment paid by U.S. IEEE Members.

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