So, you want to change your career. The problem is that you haven’t had any years of working experience in that industry. You don’t know if it’s going to pan out or if you’re going to be jobless. Doubts are swimming in your head and you contemplate just staying in your current job.
But if you feel that a career change is what you need now, you need to follow a few necessary steps to be successful. Here are some tips to break into a new industry on a blank slate.
4 ways to get into a new industry
We’ll look at the story of Jamie, who was an engineer looking to be a mobile app designer. Since Jamie graduated from university three years ago, she had been working in a civil engineering firm. Now, Jamie wanted to pursue her interests in the tech industry as a UI/UX designer. She had always been intrigued by the design and user-friendly interface of mobile apps.
Do the homework: Research the industry
Everyone had asked Jamie the same thing: “Are you sure about this? It’s going to be hard to get into a new field, especially since you’ve been doing engineering for three years.”
Jamie decided to do her homework and learn about the industry. Google became her best friend.
She read forums about the opportunities and challenges that UI/UX designers faced. She looked at the average income of designers and wondered if it could sustain her. Some designers were freelancers. Some worked in mobile app development firms, and some were in-house designers focused on a particular app. These were her options.
When she decided she’d like the field, she soaked herself in articles and videos by UI/UX design gurus explaining their craft and demonstrating their work.
She saw the skills these gurus had and paid for online courses (there were plenty to choose from). Decided to gathered many free resources and tutorials. Then she also got the tools and software (identical to the ones in the tutorials) for her practice.
She felt like a student again! Except, this time, she chose what she wanted to study and didn’t need to do all the unnecessary subjects. Plus, she got a completion certificate for all the courses she fulfilled. Through the research, Jamie was able to clarify her assumptions about the
industry and identify the skills and theoretical knowledge needed.
Set aside two hours each day for learning. Google “online courses for [your preferred industry/job]”. Go through YouTube videos, blog articles and forums. Keep a journal of the knowledge and skills you learn through these resources.
Get hands-on experience
When Jamie looked for vacancies, most job descriptions said applicants needed 1 to 3 years of experience… which she didn’t have. She could start getting some hands-on experience now, though.
Excited to put her new skills into practice, Jamie looked for gaps to fill. She still had to juggle her full-time job, but any free time she had was spent looking for design work. This was the time she had to get her name out actively.
She volunteered to upgrade the local district’s welfare app, giving its look an uplift. As she had always felt it wasn’t as user friendly as it could be. So, she sat down with her clients and learnt about their problems and goals with the app. Then, she gave her suggestions and consulted the clients before getting to work. Often, she had to review the tutorials and courses she’d taken so that she could apply them in her designs.
Jamie also began to offer her design services to the people around her. She chose who she worked for: well-networked people who could give feedback and circulate the word about her. Sometimes they paid her a small amount of money, and sometimes she didn’t charge them. She remembered how Gary Vaynerchuk had said that free work done strategically is just as valuable.
She compiled her work in a portfolio together with the feedback she’d received from happy clients. This would come in handy when she wanted to apply for the job.
Google “freelance [positions] needed in [your country]”. Get in touch with clients and pitch your ideas to them. Observe the people and businesses around you and brainstorm ways that your services can add value to them. As you work, create a portfolio of work evidence.
Get in touch with your network
Jamie reached out to her family members and colleagues to ask about the tech industry, specifically in designing apps. She asked for advice and insight from them. They also recommended a few people in the field who could share what they knew.
One day as Jamie was browsing job listings, it occurred to her that one of her university friends was a co-founder of a tech startup. She rang Tori up, asking if she needed a designer in her team.
Tori didn’t, but she knew some tech companies that might. Jamie asked for advice and sought her opinion on how else she might enter this industry.
Tori was attending a tech startup event that weekend and had asked Jamie to tag along. There, she was inspired by the work she saw. These were completely different from the kind of work she had been doing at the engineering firm. Jamie left the event with a handful of name cards. She planned to strengthen her newfound network using social media and LinkedIn.
Tori begin adding some of the people she met on LinkedIn with a message saying she enjoyed meeting them – starting a connection between them. She also looked at their job progress, certifications, and badge and begin looking at free courses she could get the same certifications in. While doing this, she finds groups for those in the mobile app industry. She asks to join and continues expanding her network.
Find friends and family members who may be connected to your industry. Get connected, begin networking and put yourself out there (Don’t be shy!). Ask about job openings or events for more networking opportunities. Find people in your industry on Linkedin, drop them a message saying why you’d like to connect with them. Find groups to join on LinkedIn – continue to expand your network.
Update your resume
Some of the mobile app development firms had agreed to interview her. They were looking for a designer and did not mind that Jamie would be coming from a different industry, since she had put in the work. She would also be working alongside other designers who could show her around.
She started to prepare for these interviews. First, she had to update her resume which had been optimised for her engineering job applications.
Jamie was able to identify the skills she’d acquired in engineering which were transferrable to UI/UX design, so she updated her skills section accordingly. Engineering and UI/UX design both needed critical skills like research and analysis, problem-solving, and technical drawing.
Instead of elaborating her past experiences related to engineering, she summarized them in short sentences. She filled up the experiences section, detailing her volunteering and part-time work. Her portfolio of work had been organized and she was ready to display her work at the interview.
Looking in the mirror each day, Jamie practised some interview questions. Particularly, she practised an eloquent answer to the question: “Why are you leaving the engineering field?”
Bryan Wong, a CEO at 18 years old, had said that the best thing to do when you’re entering a new industry without experience was being honest and showing determination. There was neither a shortcut nor overly positive answer. Jamie practised these and landed the job at a decent company where she could take her first steps in a formal working environment.
Summarise your work experience in the previous industry and elaborate on your hands-on experience in the new industry. Explain how the skills you’ve acquired in your current job are relevant and usable in the new job. Practise your answers for the interview, and be honest.
A complete career change into unchartered territory is a big and bold move to make.
However, most people have found happiness in making a living through their passion and interests. Taking the first step in a new industry will take a lot of work and extra hours, as we’ve seen in Jamie’s case.
Whilst we encourage you to follow your passion, quitting your current job shouldn’t be a decision made rashly. To be safe, ensure you have a financial backup and a secured job before you send in your resignation letter. These will factor into a smooth transition into this new industry.