With more and more people hunting for work, switching jobs or industries is trickier now than it's ever been. Here's how to set yourself apart from the rest.
1. Know Where the Opportunities Exist
"This recession has been difficult for many industries, yet others – such as health care, education, technology, sales, insurance and customer service – have continued to grow," says Allison Nawoj, a career adviser at CareerBuilder.com. Focus your job search accordingly. If you need specialised training or certification, now is a good time to take a class or workshop. "Advanced training boosts your standing as a candidate and shows dedication to a new career direction," says Dionna Keels, a senior corporate recruiter based in Atlanta.
2. Flip Your Résumé
If your previous background doesn't make you an obvious fit for a job, don't draw attention to it with a boilerplate résumé, advises Holmes. Recruiters don't have time to read between the lines of job titles to see how you might be a good fit. Instead, build a skills-based resume that highlights talents that appeal to a wide variety of employers. Create categories like project management and customer service. Then list relevant experience and job titles in bullets underneath.
3. Network in a Genuine Way
You may consider networking about as much fun as a root canal, but it's essential when you're branching out into a new industry. Besides joining professional groups and organisations in the sector you're eying, consider more creative approaches. A Toast Masters class is a good place to rub shoulders with executives while polishing your own elevator speech; becoming part of a civic organisation puts you in contact with leaders in the community; getting active with charity committees can bring you into the public realm. The more people you meet, the more opportunities will come your way, says Keels.
4. Use Social Media Wisely
Build off the relationships you develop during face-to-face networking with social media sites, like LinkedIn. They can be particularly helpful if you've met someone at an event or party, but don't feel comfortable asking about job opportunities on the spot. Do your research to see if the companies you're pursuing have recruiting blogs (often listed under the human resources link on their sites). Reading them can give you a lead on potential job openings, plus it exposes you to the culture and personality of the HR department (is the climate straight-laced or offbeat?) – all good information to have when going into an interview.
5. Brand Yourself
Speaking of blogs, they can be an excellent way to showcase your expertise, says Keels. If you're hoping to transition into advertising, now's the time to start writing about pop-culture trends in commercials, for instance. Just be careful to keep everything professional in tone. If you're not the blogging type, try setting up a personal site with your résumé and portfolio, spotlighting previous work experience in different areas. "It varies by company, but a lot of recruiters use Google and search blogs to get a full picture of a candidate's background," notes Keels. And the good news is you have complete control of your site's content, so use it to your advantage.
6. Break in Gradually
The thing about trying an entirely new career is that you don't know if you'll like it. Even if you have a picture in your head about what that job entails, there are always surprises (e.g. working with kids sounds great, until you're the lone disciplinarian). "In that case, I often tell people to volunteer or even take a part-time position within the industry they're considering," says Holmes. "It's a great way to get your foot in the door and try things out without full commitment." Consulting projects can also give you an inside glimpse into the business on a case-by-case basis. You'll develop contacts and they won't have to pay you benefits (win-win).
7. Take a "Bridge" Job
If you've zeroed in on the job you want, but it's a big jump from your current career, take a bridge job, recommends Cydney Miller, a staffing management specialist with the Society for Human Resource Management. "You'll utilise skills you have now but also be exposed to what you want to do in the future," she explains. If you're a lawyer but want to be a sports agent, for example, a bridge job might be practicing law for a sports marketing firm. Think of your bridge as an investment that will pay off down the road. Don't expect to take the job for a month and then quit the second something better comes along. Not only will that burn your reputation, it will reflect poorly on your character to a future employer.
8. Follow Your Passion
Look for something you truly care about when switching fields, because it will telegraph easily to others in an interview or cover letter, says Holmes. "You can teach a lot of skills on the job, but passion is not one of them," points out Miller. "And hiring decisions often come down to who has the most enthusiasm, not just years of experience."