A candidate asks about how to start a career in a new industry:

I’ve been working in the Finance industry for 9 years and would be considered a ‘top performer’ in my field. I’ve enjoyed regular career progression and promotions but I’m starting to tire of the industry and can feel myself burning out. I want to change industries and feel I have many marketable skills but I’m not sure how to go about identifying the right industry and how to get my foot in the door? I’m not afraid to work hard and prove myself but there’s just so much choice out there, and I’ve been in finance for so long I don’t know where to start!

We asked Sam Lawson, one of our sales recruitment specialists, to answer this one. Sam previously wrote about the pros and cons of hiring top performers from out of industry, and having moved from the finance industry himself had some great insights to share –

Hiring managers often complain that their industry’s talent pool is lacking; many admit to simply poaching from their competition. Although we often headhunt on behalf of a client, I like to recommend looking outside of industry for fresh talent. New talent can freshen up existing relationships, light some fire under an existing team, and bring in a new perspective for the benefit of their colleagues, clients and industry.

But for a hiring manager to consider options outside their industry, candidates must pose themselves as a particularly attractive hire. Moving industries requires a lot of research to determine where you will fit. And once you find the right kind of industry, you then have to build a strong case for yourself and not be afraid to sell yourself hard into a company.

Here’s a breakdown of the steps involved and questions you should be asking before you switch industries:

Identify potential industries

Research several industries to determine where you’ll fit. Certain types of industries are more open to candidates without prior experience than others.

  • Look for an industry that invests in their staff. Companies with the best training programs can be the most forgiving to those without industry experience. The rationale being they can hire people with the right soft skills and attitude, then train on products and processes.
  • Pick a growing industry. Find a growing industry that will benefit from your out of industry experience. In early-stage industries, the adoption of best practices from a range of businesses is common practice, making it easier to make a case for your value.
  • Make sure there are no educational barriers. Identify any educational barriers, both to entry and further along in your potential career path. Consider any educational upgrades you may have to invest in; both the time and financial costs to bridge those gaps.

Is the work environment a fit?

Certain industries have share particular environmental characteristics. For example, working in Silicon Valley is different to working on Wall Street.

  • Office Culture. Office culture is becoming an increasingly important hiring consideration, and it should be a two-way street. Know what culture works for you and find an industry that compliments that.
  • Management Style. If you’ve worked in a flexible environment, it can be very jarring to work yourself around a rigid schedule. Some industries are far more autonomous than others, so make sure you find one with a management style that works for you.
  • Compensation Structure. Compensation packages can look very different depending on industry. This is especially true for sales people. Comb through job postings to get a feel for compensation standards. And it’s not just about salary, some industries get exciting and intriguing side perks as well!

Tap Your Network

Your network is invaluable when investigating and switching industries. Personally, it helped my career transition immensely and I tap my network constantly for introductions and relationship-building.

  • Go on informational interviews. Those second and third degree connections on LinkedIn are key. Find someone from your industry of interest and start asking questions about what makes someone highly successful in that role. Ask them about the highs and lows and get a feel for where that industry is headed, long term.
  • Use your network to open doors. Once you have done your research and have found your target industry, start to do some networking. A manager is more likely to meet with someone who was highly referred.

Emphasize Transferrable Skills

Getting your foot in the door will only be a small step in the upward battle. You are going to be competing with other candidates who are just as smart, just as skilled and come from within industry. This is why it’s so important to find an industry that utilizes your transferrable skills, knowledge and connections.

  • Complimentary Client Base. Choose an industry that would work across the same client base allowing you to leverage your existing client base or technical product knowledge. For example, selling copiers leverages the same corporate office customer base as selling mobility packages.
  • Similar Business Processes. Many processes are the same across industry, and this will enable someone to ramp up more quickly. In sales, it’s normally is pipeline management the same: how you prospect, deal cycle, behavior or buying signals.
  • Sell Your Accomplishments. When changing industries, be sure you can speak to accomplishments. Speak their language. Nothing will make a hiring manager wrap up an interview sooner than a candidate who cannot speak to accomplishments that translate to their business.

So, if your industry is slowing down or your need a new challenge, be prepared to go in informed and fearless. You won’t just be selling yourself, you’ll also be educating a hiring manager on why breaking from the mould is in their best interest.


Sam specializes in the recruitment of sales professional in the Greater Vancouver Area. Sam is a natural communicator and relationship-builder. From his sporting background and in-depth sales experience, Sam has developed a keen sense for seeking out high performance professionals. Sam comes from a highly competitive upbringing and found success as a competitive swimmer and won multiple national medals; but later headed east to study at Ryerson University in Toronto. With over 7 years in a high intensity sales environment, Sam understands what it takes to excel in a sales role. Sam genuinely enjoys building and maintaining close working relationships with his clients as he helps them build stronger, successful sales teams.