Switching industries is all about the fine art of jumping. After all, moving to a completely different field – unrelated to what you’re doing, plus you’re not even sure if they have openings – really will feel like going headfirst into the unknown.
And while it can be risky, having a career in the field you really want could be worth it – as long as you know how to play your cards right.
Here’s how Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook), John Legend (Grammy-award-winning artist) and Angela Taylor (a former HR manager, now a computer engineer at Google) managed their jumps.
Sheryl Sandberg graduated with an undergrad degree in economics and a master’s degree in business from Harvard. She then worked for the World Bank as their chief economist, then moved on to be the deputy Treasury Secretary’s Chief of Staff.
Even while in government, Sandberg saw the tech boom well on its way in the early 2000s. With this in mind, she decided to move to Silicon Valley and build her new career there.
After resonating with Google’s mission of “making the world’s information freely available”, she went on to join them 3 years into their inception. After 8 years cementing her reputation as the pioneer in building Google’s AdSales team and revenue, she moved on to become Facebook’s global COO.
What You Can Learn
Even if you’re in a completely different industry, you should still give your target industry a shot – as long as you see potential and even with no relevant experience.
As Sandberg learned while interviewing with Meg Whitman (then the CEO of eBay), it’s better to hire for skills instead of relevant experience. This was especially true during the dot-com boom, since there were completely new jobs that had never been done before. While this applies as a recruiter, she also made sure it applied to her as an applicant.
If you’re planning to jump industries, be confident enough like Sandberg (whose background was economics and government) to get hired based on your transferrable skills, not necessarily on your experience.
Born John Stephens in Ohio, John Legend went on to take his undergrad degree in the University of Pennsylvania. Although a music prodigy growing up – playing the piano early, directing a college a capella group – he decided to pursue a career in consulting with the Boston Consulting Group.
While at his day job, Legend still pursued his love of music. He would work the New York nightclub circuit after work, performing in many bars. At one point, Kanye West even opened for him when the former was trying to shift gears from producer to rapper.
When his debut album, Get Lifted, released in 2004, Legend went on to win 3 grammy awards in his breakthrough effort. Five Grammys later, he’s now the established artist we know today.
What You Can Learn
John Legend knew he wanted to pursue a career in music for the long run. But he knew how risky it could be – which is why he kept his day job. (And he’s not the only one – even local musicians in the Philippine industry do the same.) While consistently getting his work out there, Legend kept this consultancy gig until he felt sure enough to take the leap.
The takeaway? If you want to make it another industry, hedge your risk by keeping something stable first – like your current job.
As Adam Grant highlighted in his book Originals, “when we embrace danger in one domain, we offset our overall level of risk by exercising caution in another domain.” In other words, manage your transition cautiously by playing it safe in one area in your life while taking a risk in another: your odds of success will thank you for it.
Taylor has been making the news rounds recently: not only is she one of the few African-American female engineers in Google (an achievement in its own right), but she’s known for how she got to be one without the conventional career track.
After graduating with a comms degree, Taylor landed a coveted internship with Google. This became her springboard to work with them full-time in 2012. Since there were no relevant openings, she decided to work in HR.
While there, a project came up when the team needed help with a spreadsheet: she volunteered to do it, learned Visual Basic on a flight, and was hooked.
From then on, she took free programming courses online, used her 20% time in the company to work on coding projects for both HR and engineering, enrolled in community college courses, and was eventually invited to join the engineering team full-time, 6 years later.
What You Can Learn
First off, Taylor is proof that you don’t have to start out having “the usual” qualifications in order to land your dream role. Secondly, if you’re interested in another field, see if you can find a role within your company first that falls under that.
After all, your goal is to land a job that will provide the relevant experiences. It works to your advantage to grab lowest hanging fruit. Easiest wins can get your momentum going – and if you apply for the role in a company that already knows your reputation, this can be your transition to shift industries successfully.
At the end of the day, jumping industries boils down to how much you really want it. If you’re willing to land well in a totally different field, it’s all about being smart about your next moves. We hope these stories have inspired you to finally make yours.