Career Change: 5 Tips For Transitioning Into A New Industry

How to Successfully Transition to a New Industry or Sector

22 September 2020

Stepping into a new role demands a tough balance of considered planning and courageous risk-taking. What if you are moving to an entirely new industry, a new sector or a new type of role, however? Firstly, it may be motivating to learn you are not alone – 65% of CEO candidates are looking to transition out of their current sectors. Whether driven by better opportunities for growth, or simply in need of a fresh outlook, there are steps to make this transition a successful one.

1. Break stereotypes

Moving to a new sector means tackling stereotypes. Potential employers may already have an image - not necessarily a positive one - of candidates coming from your sector. Find out what these are and demonstrate the skills you have that will bring about a positive change. Remember, there is a fresh and different perspective you can bring to the table and you are not tied down by past issues or jaded by the sector (or linked to any of the personalities in the sector). At the same time, you can also highlight the similarities in your background to show why your experience is relevant.

2. Expand your network

Develop and build your network to overcome the hurdle of potential employers disregarding you as a candidate because you do not “fit the traditional mould”. Someone who knows you is more likely to put trust in you, appoint or recommend you. Expand your network by connecting with people within the desired sector to form a clear image of the culture and prepare for the transition ahead.

3. Learn the language

Immerse yourself in the sector you want to work in. Study the language and terminology used, extending this to communication with your network, your LinkedIn profile and your CV. This demonstrates a solid commitment to the move and sends a clear message to potential employers that you are already in the right mindset for the role. To get a real feel for it and some genuine “warts’n’all” information, speak with friends or family members who work in the sector.

4. Keep developing and growing

Continually develop leadership skills, challenge yourself and take risks. Build on your knowledge in the desired sector. This will prepare you for the demanding task ahead. Take note of the accomplishments in your career so far, but also pay attention to any areas you need to improve on. Be brutally honest with yourself too. Let’s face it, you are going to have to deal with doubt and resistance during this process, and you need to be able to prove you have what it takes.

5. Always look forward

The age-old interview advice is to never be negative about your former employer. The exact same goes for your former sector. Don’t dwell on the negatives that have led to this decision to move on, focus on the positives that motivated you. It is always far better and mentally more positive, to have a “towards” goal rather than an “away from” goal”: by focusing on the path ahead, you show your resolve for a new future.

From Westminster to Silicon Valley

Nick Clegg stepped into the role of joint Head of Policy and Communications of Facebook last November. The former leader of the Liberal Democrats, who served as Deputy Prime Minister for five years, was a surprising choice, yet his initial response indicated why he would be the top pick. After being approached for the role, he provided a strong memo outlining the need for Facebook to face the world and engage. This was a stark contrast to the company’s strategy up until then. In an interview early on in his position, Clegg explained “If I felt we could just go quiet, boy, would I advocate for it. But I actually don’t think that’s possible. I don’t believe in sitting here behind these lovely walls in Menlo Park and kind of just hunkering down.”

The former politician was a refreshing figure in the social network company. He is neither Republican nor Democrat, wasn’t part of the Silicon Valley world, and was little known in the US. This seemed to be part of the appeal. He was not jaded or affected by US politics and he didn’t let past issues in the company cloud his judgement. On the other hand, he had impressive experience that would stand to benefit Facebook, for example dealing with world leaders and handling public criticism during his political career. Plus, he is upfront on where he stands, stating “In the long run, it’s better to say your piece, have a point of view, be understood, even if you’re not liked.”

Clegg did not join Facebook without understanding what he was getting himself into. He made sure to study the company culture and has fully embraced it. Throughout his role so far, he has consistently publicly defended and stood for the company. And since being hired, he has made his mark. Clegg played a key role in Facebook’s response to COVID-19, collaborating with governments across the world to decide what role the company should take. He pushed forward Facebook’s external oversight board - many members of which have political experience – and helped CEO Mark Zuckerberg with his momentous speech on free expression. So, despite hailing from the political sphere across the pond, Clegg’s unique skills have been positive for the social network giant.

Transparency and trust bring Tesco back to life

Back in 2014, Tesco was struggling. The UK supermarket chain’s profits were dwindling and customers’ trust in the brand was rock bottom. In 2014, Dave Lewis was chosen to step in as CEO. Lewis, who had spent almost 30 years at Unilever, had no prior experience in retail. His approach was to observe and listen, saying “I got to understand what the problems were by walking into shops and talking to colleagues. I invited colleagues to write or email me what they thought I should be thinking about and I spent an entire Sunday reading all of their responses.” He also made sure other executives were in tune with the issues. One of his first board meetings involved giving members name badges, like the ones store staff wear, and visiting the shop floor. Communication to employees was simple and transparent. A presentation he gave at the time consisted of just 10 slides explaining the plan going forward.

To bring Tesco back around, Lewis had to act fast and take a few risks along the way. He quickly realised the need to simplify the business, getting rid of cafes, garden centres and restaurants, then turning the focus fully onto groceries. The acquisition of Booker, a wholesale supplier for corner shops and caterers, was risky, yet it resulted in saving costs for the company. His rebranding of the Tesco Value range generated more than £500 million in year one. Lewis said, “I knew when I joined, I could never hope to be as good a retailer as the people who already worked there. So, I told them, ‘You carry on being best retailers and I’ll try and be a good retail CEO’.” It seems this approach worked. In contrast to the first annual report under Lewis - an annual loss of £6.4 billion - in this year’s annual report, Tesco announced a £1.9 billion profit.

At B+C we pride ourselves on being able to challenge our client’s existing thinking; to talk about candidates and candidate profiles they may never have considered. We very much see our role, especially for senior executive appointments, to encourage clients to think differently, to consider moving away from what they know and expect, and what they are comfortable with. No matter what changes you are making to take your career further, our expert consultants are here to support you.