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Changing Industries

By Matt Lowney

For many professionals changing industries can be almost as difficult as changing career paths. Unfortunately, when employers look for new employees, they want someone from a similar industry. For example, healthcare companies often prefer candidates with prior healthcare industry experience, even if the position they are looking to fill does not depend on much industry specific knowledge. So how does a job seeker over come this hurdle? Below are ideas on how to overcome this industry bias.

Learn as much as you can about the industry and company. Demonstrating your knowledge about the company is an integral part of any interview process. However, if you come from an unrelated industry, you will need to put an extra emphasis on learning about your potential employer's industry, including trends in the marketplace and competitors. You must prove to the interviewer that you have some understanding about their industry before they move you forward in the interview process. Interviewers don't want to hear “I'm a quick learner”, or “I'm sure I can pick what I need quickly.” Keep in mind employers want to hire someone that requires the quickest ramp up time possible. If you've left the impression that you are going to be a project, then they will look for someone else. If you can impress them with the time and effort you've put into preparing for the interview, they'll assume you will put the same sort of effort into your job.

How are the industries similar? Many employers make assumptions about candidates outside their industry that just don't hold true. For example, if a healthcare company is looking to hire a human resources generalist, they naturally look for candidates from the healthcare industry. However, a generalist for the manufacturing industry might be a perfect fit, since many of the employment laws apply equally to both environments. In this case, the candidate needs to demonstrate their knowledge of the applicable laws and a little about the healthcare industry, especially the different types of employees they will be working with. In addition, the types of issues facing a human resource generalist will probably be the same. You need to provide examples of specific situations in which you've dealt with a problem and how this type situation industry neutral.

Highlight the differences. For some reason, hiring managers often see candidates from outside their industry as sub-par. While this bias may not be true, you will have to overcome this objection. First demonstrate why you will excel in the position they are looking to fill and show how your non-industry background is actually a positive. Your unique “outsider” perspective may help shed light on a particular problem the company has been trying to solve. For example, someone from a manufacturing background typically is much more process driven than someone from the healthcare industry. This perspective could be just what they need.

Matt Lowney is a corporate recruiter, radio host, and career consultant specializing in the areas of healthcare and information technology. He can be reached at for additional information about his services.