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How to change career and find a completely new line of work

6 steps for breaking into a new industry with advice from career coach John Lees.

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Fancy a career change? It’s usually straightforward finding a similar role in a work sector you know well – but how do you look for something entirely different?

6 D’s to get quicker results when changing sector:

1. Dump your preconceptions

The job market is increasingly flexible – every year people make sector changes. Don’t assume these moves require retraining. Too many people ignore interesting jobs because they assume that employers will only look at candidates with relevant, recent experience.

This is sometimes true, but it often depends on the range of talent available – and also on the employer mindset. Sometimes employers are keen to train up potential or bring in expertise acquired in other fields.

2. Decode employer reluctance

On the whole employers prefer applicants whose knowledge and experience are a close fit; if you have never worked in a sector before it’s hard to be taken seriously.

If your CV uses language and describes contexts which seem alien, this magnifies the problem. The aim of your research (see below) is to work out an employer’s wish list.

Your next task is to translate your experience and know-how into meaningful terms – skills only become transferable when you describe them in language that employers understand and get excited about.

3. Deconstruct job boards

Job boards are useful because they point to organisations which are actively recruiting. Study job ads carefully: they reveal job titles, organisational needs, working cultures, skills and competences sought, and the language employers use to describe top talent.

Make sure you supplement this desk research with real conversations with anyone who knows the sector so you get a feel for what job descriptions mean in practice.

4. Dig deeper in your research

Most applications from out-of-sector candidates fail to show real knowledge. It can easily seem as if you are playing with the idea of change, and you’ll probably go for a safe job.

Show you’re not vaguely interested, just dipping your toes in the water. Make sure your industry research is up to date, and talk about the range of organisations you’ve talked to. Research target employers as if you were investing your own money in them.

5. Desist from random applications

If you send a CV which doesn’t come close to matching employer needs, you’ll get the same results whether you use it ten times or a thousand times. Untailored applications from candidates with unconventional backgrounds are quickly ignored.

You’re far more likely to break into a new sector after meeting people face-to-face – so they can see your enthusiasm and commitment. Get in front of people in your target sector, asking smart questions which will help you craft an on-message CV.

6. Demonstrate your unique value

Rather than apologising for your unconventional background, celebrate it. Talk about the way your experience and skills are not only different but add something unusual which isn’t replicated by ‘identikit’ candidates.

You’ll have to push open more doors than candidates with predictable CVs, but do so with informed enthusiasm.


Make that career change with the help of these articles:

How working abroad can boost your career: Read stories from six people who have taken the plunge.
Job-hopping: Can it help or hinder your career? What are the career benefits of job-hopping, and are there any potential pitfalls?
Revive your career with a sabbatical Find out how from professionals who have taken the leap.


More expert career advice from John Lees:

5 tips to ace an interview: Seeing a job interview from two angles. Learn more about Karina’s story at Virgin Media.
What interviewers see and hear: Get an insider view of the job interview.
5 rookie mistakes to avoid when job searching: Give your job search the best chance of success by cutting out the basic errors.

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11 Comments

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  1. rohit Monday, 13 Mar, 2017 at 1:23 pm

    All I can do it

  2. Tomas Saturday, 18 Mar, 2017 at 4:47 pm

    It’s very useful advice. I learnt from you that my enthusiasm could be the value if employers still won’t struggle with expanding their companies however I feel positive about myself. The right thing is to meet up people if possible, those companies which cooperate with agencies often say that at the end of their contract, their candidates won’t be allowed to meet their previous employers but that’s the way, I’m going to come back to them, return the badge and keys personally. I will continue my research and see if I can reach unreachable like possibly managers who are quite often very busy people however chatting with them and showing enthusiasm is more likely accepted if they are well understanding and still manage to give people the right direction…That’s what I’m personally looking for..I think that the person like me deserves training and move into electromechanical industry because as teenager I was very keen of assembly of parts and fault finding…I wish only if I can to document everything I have done as I was younger so it could incredibly add more provision to my future career. It is all well to read about your points as they enhance my image how employers can see my own enthusiasm.

    Thank you.

  3. peter watson Saturday, 18 Mar, 2017 at 8:57 pm

    very interesting ,food for thought defiantly

  4. Diane Sunday, 19 Mar, 2017 at 12:54 pm

    Some good, sensible advice here. Especially the point ‘decode employer reluctance’. Although there is always a lot of talk about ‘transferable skills’; but most job boards and recruitment specialists I have found, are completely incapable of seeing them.

  5. Stuart Banks Saturday, 6 May, 2017 at 3:22 pm

    Without a shadow of any doubt in my mind development of career by achieving the widest and deepest knowledge, experience of providing a directly relevant solution and working as a self starter within teams and groups of multidisciplinary individuals. Expands a job applicants skill sets and an opportunity to present at least one key achievement that can impress rather than detract from their employment prospects with another employer.
    However this wide variety of employment skill sets and key achievements can be unattractive to employers who are only interested in the closest fit of status related, job title or description, key work experiences and complimentary qualifications that completely eliminates a candidate with cross sector and different industry experience. Because although the candidate may be prepared to take the possible risk of a mismatch, the employer wants to completely avoid that possibility.

  6. Thilina Saturday, 6 May, 2017 at 3:32 pm

    Very useful true story

  7. Lydia Saturday, 6 May, 2017 at 7:27 pm

    Very inspiring indeed

  8. Susan Kim giddins Saturday, 6 May, 2017 at 8:33 pm

    I am trying to go down a new career path my work history is hotel work so I have experience in customer service the work I’m trying to get in to is warehouse operative(picking /packing)I’m having difficulty as I’m applying for jobs but do not hear back so I’m losing confidence As I’m not sure if I have the energy to keep applying for these jobs then don’t hear back . thanks Susan Giddings

  9. kalpana Saturday, 6 May, 2017 at 8:56 pm

    I have changed my career because of my health problems. I cannot do things I used to before.

  10. Stephen Wellz Tuesday, 9 May, 2017 at 10:53 am

    What tosh. I am fed up with such gurus. I am returning to Education after running my own business and I have not a chance. Why? REFERENCES. No employer will touch you without someone saying you CAN do the job applied for.
    I am highly qualified and skilled but without references to confirm I may as well kiss goodbye to returning.

  11. Anastacia Tuesday, 9 May, 2017 at 11:29 am

    I am planning to change my career to accounts. My career is in admin but I don’t get any reply from job applications. I decided to change to accounts.

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