If you are thinking about an industry change, you need to uncover your best industry options.


Executives Often End Up Changing Industries

When you are thinking about changing jobs, you need to take a close look at yourself and the industry you're working in. For better or worse, you will quickly find that, compared to a decade ago, you have changed, your career field has changed, and your industry has changed.

Today, people must be prepared to market themselves with sufficient skill so that they are attractive to employers in many industries. People who see themselves as specialists, or in one industry, may mistakenly believe they are locked into one type of business.

Others feel they have few available options because they are generalists. The reality is that executives of all ages are making moves into new careers and frontier industries. Many find such choices allow them to have greater income and more challenge. In this section, we will share some basics we have learned from the many executives we have helped to change industries.

Our process for helping you involves doing an exhaustive analysis to surface your assets. Then we match them against a range of opportunity areas. The key point to remember is that transition to a new industry is easier than it used to be. Historically, people have overrated the barriers and underrated their abilities to make contributions in new areas in a relatively short time frame.

Why We Favor Looking Into Growth Industries

As a rule, we suggest you identify a range of possibilities that people may not have uncovered, or considered —on their own. Of course, you should also consider traditional areas and large firms. Ultimately, you select your own goals.

We tend to favor growth industries. Why? Because a fast-growing firm generally means higher pay, faster promotions and more valuable stock options —giving people a meaningful chance of accumulating some wealth and job satisfaction. Stated another way, with all things being equal, why join a firm in the steel business or other mature industries where stock options may prove meaningless?

Growth companies are usually driven by shareholder value. Every employee receives more options each year. In private firms, employees often receive options to buy stock at only 10 percent of the price extended to venture capitalists.

Of course, there are restrictions regarding tenure with the company. But if a person joins a growth company, they have the potential at any age for compensation in stock options that can go far beyond their salary.

Making It Easier to Change Industries

We track growth industries and growth companies by constantly updating our knowledge through our relationships and information sharing. Our research department also continually reviews dozens of major media, dozens of lesser-known publications, trade media, newsletters, and online sources, as well as the business sections of major newspapers. Any mention of a growth industry then makes its way into our growth file.

From there, we isolate characteristics of each industry and match them with characteristics of industries where our clients have previous experience. We refer to this as having an "industry hook." And, projecting some form of any industry hook is the next best thing to having industry experience.

Our goal is to compile your best industry possibilities, and we group them three ways:

  • Close industry hooks—easy possibilities
  • Medium industry hooks—next best
  • Far reach or "stretch" industry hooks

The more you appear to know about an industry, the easier it is to generate interviews. Conversely, the harder it is to demonstrate knowledge of an industry, the less likely a person is to move into it.

When you have no knowledge. If you are short on information about a particular industry, the easiest way to acquire knowledge is through trade publications. They make it easy to communicate on new products, data on specific firms, and the major industry challenges.

  • A client was a marketing executive with Philip Morris and she joined a cosmetics firm. Why? Their methods of marketing are similar.

  • Another client was the EVP of a circuit- board company, and was recruited to become president of a firm that makes power packs. Why? These industries have similarities in manufacturing and sales.

  • A Lockheed Martin executive was recruited to become CEO of a small firm that sells high-tech services to defense contractors. Why? The key was the new CEO's contacts and his market knowledge.

Another way to get this knowledge is to talk with people in the industry. You can also use our private website to surface information on virtually any trade association and its key executives.

Turnaround opportunities. Troubled industries also have something to offer. Executives who have worked for firms under pressure can be invaluable contributors. Those who learned tough lessons in competitive battles can function as veterans in any industry.

Low-tech opportunities. As you review potential industries, you might also remember that while glamorous high-tech and service businesses receive 90 percent of the publicity today, many people will find far more opportunities in industries that are considered low-tech.

Obviously, you don't want to overlook your leverage power ... the added benefits you may bring by virtue of your contacts or knowledge. You may be able to bring a team with you that helped you "turn around" a similar situation. Perhaps you control major accounts that would give you their business in a new field. Or, you may have cut millions from overhead before and can do it again.

Versatility. Another consideration can be your versatility. The fact is, nearly every capable person can work in a different function that is broader, narrower, or in some way associated with a past position.

Here are some examples to reinforce this point:

  • A versatile purchasing executive with Honeywell found it easy to move to a growth firm where she is responsible for all manufacturing.
  • A general manager from Mattel became the marketing VP for a consumer firm in the cosmetics industry.
  • A lending officer with BankOne became the top executive in an Internet financial services firm.
  • An executive went from the Labor Department to president of a pharmaceutical firm.
  • A lawyer from a steel company became EVP of an engineering company.

Be sure to communicate the scope of your knowledge and potential. Sales executives, for instance, often know quite a bit about marketing, purchasing and distribution. Manufacturing professionals often know a great deal about administration, logistics, the control function and general management. A controller will sometimes have a grasp of every aspect of a business.

Minimizing arbitrary requirements. When discussing the requirements for a position, it will be important for you to distinguish between arbitrary requirements and those that really relate to results. Arbitrary requirements include degrees, titles and industry experience.

Your selling proposition. The final hiring decision usually has little to do with specifications. If you can present yourself convincingly as being able to produce results, you will most likely get the job. We have thousands of examples. If you believe you can produce direct results in a situation, lay claim to it. Don't seek a lower level than you should, or rule yourself out of a job, simply because they have never done it before.

Aim where barriers are low. If you are switching industries, you will find that more opportunities emerge in small and mid-sized companies. They don't have layers of management waiting to fill new opportunities. Their executives tend to be less specialized.

How Some of Our Clients View Changing Industries

"I had been in a manufacturing industry for 20 years here in Pittsburgh. Several times I looked for a position, but had no success. The key to your helping me had to do with your extremely thorough way of analyzing my whole career history. Working with your staff, we came up with completely different presentations based upon my skills. Getting it all put together in the communication strategy was also key. The whole search took about 15 weeks but I am extremely happy and excited about the firm I have joined."

"As I look back on my career, I agree with you that being in the right industry can have a major impact on both your career and financial progress. I had worked for two tire companies, most recently Firestone, and only wish that I had made the effort to break into a new area at a much earlier date."

"There is no mystery to your approach to helping people change industries. Nevertheless, without some professionals to talk to, I think most executives would have a hard time pinpointing their industry options. Your staff enlightened me to a rather dramatic extent. I have shifted from a career in nonprofit and education to the business world and am looking forward to my new challenges."