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Can you get a job in a different industry? Q&A with BIE consultants

by Marty Jaynes on 16 Feb 2018
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The decision to change jobs and move to a different industry can be daunting. How do you sell yourself into a new industry? And how open are organisations to hiring candidates from outside of their industry?

In this blog, I talk with some of our consultants recruiting in the finance, HR, supply chain and transformation sectors to discuss this topic.

It was clear that certain themes resonated with everyone, regardless of the sector they recruit for.

The idea of transferable skills was bounced around a lot. To move into a different industry you need to be able to demonstrate you have the appropriate skill set to apply to the environment you’re looking to move into.

But often it does come down to how open the hiring organisation is to bringing in someone from a different industry. The general consensus was that organisations have become more open about hiring from different backgrounds, however, there is still a tendency for some organisations to go for the ‘safer’ option. And this is where recruiters can play a valuable role in encouraging organisations to think outside the box.

Here’s how our discussion unfolded;

What top tips would you give to candidates looking to move into a different industry?

“In terms of the HR community, there is a lot of commentary about transferable skills. If a person is considering moving to another industry, look at what that business is trying to achieve in terms of their business strategy, goals and challenges, and draw on all of their experience to convince a client that they have the skill set to deliver.Janet Musgrave, HR

“The key thing is about identifying your core skill set and where that skill set will be in demand. If you’re coming from an FMCG background in supply chain you’d say, ‘Well what do I do well? I work in a very lean environment where we have very low inventory levels and very high customer service levels.’ So what industries have very high inventory levels and low customer service levels, and it’s about saying, ‘What can I bring to the table in those organisations?’” James Gherardi, Supply Chain

“From a candidate perspective you’ve got to focus when it comes to career development on, ‘What can I seek out to do within my business that adds value and ideally is transferable outside of a) that business and b) that industry?’ In the finance world, the ‘big’ thing at the moment is data, and how to utilise it most effectively. We’re seeing lots of clients across lots of sectors talk about data and decision support. It doesn’t matter if you work for a security company or BP or McDonalds. It’s all around how to best utilise that information to keep your competitive edge as a business.” John O’Connor, Finance

“I’d ask, ‘What are the transferable skills?’ People change industries, but you’d move from a BP to an RBS because of the size and scale. That skill set is sometimes more important than the industry knowledge.” Steve Arrow, Transformation

What are the benefits for companies of hiring outside of their industry?

“There’s a massive value add in somebody coming from a different industry because it’s bringing a very different perspective. Especially with key themes now, such as engagement and culture. HR is so involved in that now and those key themes can be pulled from various businesses.” Anna Bailey, HR

“When people do come in from a different industry they’ve almost got that license to ask lots of questions. ‘Why do you do things this way?’ It just brings a different lens. And that’s a good thing for the business.” Steve Arrow, Transformation

“A lot of businesses say they want disruptive thinkers. So therefore it would be about, ‘Well hey I’ve been in lots of different industries so I can be very disruptive and provocative and value-add.’” Janet Musgrave, HR

Do transferable skills always apply?

“It probably applies more at junior and mid-level. Possibly the ease of transferring across industry gets a bit more challenging at a senior level, depending on sector – highly regulated industries in particular.” Janet Musgrave, HR

“In HR there’s corporate and creative. It’s very easy to move around within each of those. But actually trying to go from corporate to a creative or vice versa is more of a challenge.” Anna Bailey, HR

“Somebody who has done 20 years at a company - I’d say that’s more of a challenge. You’ve not got multi-industry knowledge which can be really valuable. But it’s not impossible, and there are people who’ve bucked the trend.” Anna Bailey, HR

How open-minded are companies to recruiting outside of their industry?

“I’ve noticed that people are more open now, even from say three years ago. We’d say, ‘What does their background need to look like?’ and I’ve noticed a shift in that they are more open.” Anna Bailey, HR

“In my experience about 70% of clients will go for the ‘safer’ option.” Janet Musgrave, HR

“In the interim world, you get biases too. But there are some roles where you don’t need subject expertise as much. So it’s a case of picking the right role in the right part of the business and approaching it in the right way.” Steve Arrow, Transformation

“I think in general terms it’s a lot easier to move across industries now than it ever used to be. I think that’s because a lot more focus goes into what skill set you bring to the table. So you need to have a very clear and articulate understanding of what your skill set is, what your interpersonal skills are, and how they can be of benefit to others.” James Gherardi, Supply Chain

“People will still opt to play it safe a lot of the time and that will always be the case. That said, I think the crash of 2008-2009 has actually helped in this respect. Whilst it’s still not perfect, there’s recognition out there, certainly from a finance perspective, that certain companies and industries in the economy got into trouble because of a relatively closed mind-set when it came to culture and boardroom makeup. In some areas of the banking sector for example, you had a very profit-driven environment with people who had joined that sector in their 20’s and seen very little diversity in terms of background and approach to profit-making and risk management. In some areas of the economy there’s a push and a drive now to pull people in from outside of that sector and have a more diverse workforce and leadership teams.” John O’Connor, Finance

“There’s a whole culture piece here. They may be looking for someone that fits the current culture or someone that can help shift the culture. In these instances organisations may be more open to recruiting from other industries. It becomes behavioural and leadership focused rather than technical experience focused.” Janet Musgrave, HR

What role can recruiters play?

“If a candidate is trying to go direct to a business they have got a high chance of being turned away especially if the business is a bit insular in its thinking. That’s where we would play a role in influencing our clients to think outside the box.” Janet Musgrave, HR

“There’s that element of trust. If you say this is a candidate I know well and I’ve placed before then there definitely is a big added value in that, compared to if somebody is applying to something directly with no history or any relationship with them.” Anna Bailey, HR

“Part of using us is that we have a relationship with the clients and it’s much easier for us to persuade and influence. That’s very difficult to do if you send your CV to a portal of some sort. The first person that sees your CV may not be that knowledgeable about the role and may just be keyword matching.” Steve Arrow, Transformation

How can candidates prepare themselves?

“There’s an element of, ‘What can you do within your organisation to make yourself more marketable both internally and externally?’ You’ve got to focus on, ‘What can I apply myself to in this environment that I can take elsewhere?’ It might not be just related to the ‘day job’ either. I’d advise people to think about development courses, additional training or whether you can act as a mentor (or indeed be mentored or coached yourself).’” John O’Connor, Finance

“Ask yourself, ‘What are the things I don’t have that might be needed?’. Think about stepping stones too. If you want to move from banking to retail, start by moving to the retail banking side in your current company.” Steve Arrow, Transformation

“If you’re in financial services and you want to get into a manufacturing environment, it’s going to be quite a difficult shift to make for you to move straight across. So it could be about saying well actually, let’s find an incremental role to go into and use that as a stepping point to your final end point.” James Gherardi, Supply Chain

“Anyone who is certainly in a FTSE 100 international business should always make sure they’re taking advantage of the internal talent development tools that are available. For candidates, it’s making sure that if there is the chance to develop a more versatile skill set, take advantage of it. The opportunity to work in new markets, maybe spend some time in another country - all of that sort of stuff is really critical if you’re able to capitalise on it.” James Gherardi, Supply Chain

In conclusion

For candidates, the most important thing you need to focus on are your transferable skills. Research potential employers thoroughly so you know what they are looking for and how your skill set can be applied. Talk to people already working in the industry and see how your skills match up. And look for opportunities to broaden your skill set to make you more marketable to other industries.

Taking advantage of recruiters is also key. By building relationships with recruiters you can increase your chances of being considered by organisations in broader industries. If a recruiter knows and trusts you, they’ll be better able to sell you convincingly to the hiring organisation.

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Marty Jaynes

Written by Marty Jaynes