How to break into a career you know nothing about

When I decided to launch a print magazine into what you could call a fragile industry (#understatement), my decision was met with a mixture of admiration, pity and "are you crazy?"

This wasn't just because so many magazines were closing due to money worries. I also had zero experience of the magazine world, although I'd been running my own businesses for over a decade. Absolutely none! But I did it anyway.

Maybe, as a manager, you can relate to this predicament. Perhaps you've side-stepped into a managerial role in a different industry to the one you were trained in. Or you may currently be working in your comfort zone, but one day dream of taking the leap into a new field.

Either way, I want to offer some words of encouragement. If you want to break into a new industry, you don't always have to start at the bottom. I stepped straight into the deep end and nearly three years on I'm still floating. I'm not saying it's easy – especially if you're managing a team who probably know more about the industry than you do – but it is perfectly possible. Here are my top tips:

Immerse yourself

Be a sponge and suck up every drop of water available. You need to absorb, digest, analyse and memorise every bit of information you can that will help you. This means setting up a Google alert for key words relating to the industry, finding out who the key players are on LinkedIn and following new launches in foreign countries (the website TrendHunter is a great resource for innovations worldwide). Use the question-and-answer website Quora to quiz people in your industry. You never know, a famous CEO might reply to you.

Be the person who joins the dots

Want an industry to embrace you? Find a common problem – and then solve it. Virgin Records is currently deploying this strategy by asking industry insiders (musicians, record labels, venue owners, start-ups in the industry and tech platforms) to share their biggest bugbear. This includes the use of camera phones at concerts (because it's a copyright issue) and even how to stop obnoxious people going to gigs! The best way to discover real problems is by talking to real people and asking, "What is your biggest gripe about this industry?" Tweet it, post it or speak it.

Hire from outside of the industry, initially

When recruiting, look outside the initial talent pool of the industry. When I was launching The Collective magazine, none of my first hires had previous experience in the magazine industry. They were all highly talented and had transferable skills but were all, in essence, as green as me. However, I believe in those early days our naivety helped us to be innovative. In a Collective meeting you'll never hear the phrase, "But that isn't how it's usually done". If you're worried about whether a hire is right or not, bring them on board on a freelance basis at first. Websites like The Loop and Upwork are a great place to find talent that might otherwise be overlooked.

Don't discount your experience

Just because you have minimal experience of an industry, don't tear your résumé into a thousand pieces. What skills have you learnt over your career and how can you re-spin these and use them to sell yourself? Perhaps you're a school teacher who wants to move into events management. Have you really got zero experience? What about that school play you organised or the swimming galas you've coordinated? You could easily argue that managing kids is harder than managing adults. So, if you're asked in an interview about your experience don't be too quick to answer "none".

Launch as if you are the market leader

Enter an industry as if you're already a somebody (it's the old 'fake it til you make it' strategy). Announce your new position to the industry, listing your experience (see point above). Most industries have at least one online platform dedicated to news and moves (try SocialDiary or Telum for media, ITWire for tech and RagTrader for fashion). Write a press release about your new position (yes, it's awkward writing about yourself but you'll get over it) and circulate it on social media. As a newbie in an industry you need to learn to blow your own trumpet, until other people care enough to do it for you.

Advertisement

What other tips do you have for shifting into a new career? Let us know in the comments section.

Comments