For most of my life, I thought I was going to grow up to be a teacher. All through elementary, middle and high school, I envisioned myself at the head of the classroom, teaching students about history, government and civics. It wasn’t until I got to college to actually pursue this career path that I had second thoughts. With a whole world of possibilities in front of me, why was I limiting myself? I explored a number of fields over the next four years, eventually landing on political science, which led me to law school and to a career as an attorney.
Within the first year of practicing law, I knew I was in the wrong place. While I enjoyed making a difference in my clients’ lives, I hated the adversarial nature of the job, the constant pressure and the endless labyrinth of rules. But if I wasn’t practicing law, what was I supposed to be doing? After all, I had just spent over $120,000 on my law degree. To not use it felt like a massive waste of time and money. So, I sucked it up, all the while dreaming of a different life.
I did eventually leave my law firm for a non-practicing role. While I liked my new gig, I knew deep down that it wasn’t the right fit either. At the time, I had been reading a lot about diversity (or lack thereof) in the legal profession, the dearth of women in leadership in the law and the biases women and people of color were facing every day. These were the issues that really mattered to me, and I knew I wanted to do something about it, but I didn’t know how I could turn this passion into a job. I assumed that I could only make the transition if I had diversity experience, and I had none to speak of. As it turns out, I didn’t need diversity experience to land my dream job, and today I love what I do — helping to develop and advance talented women and diverse lawyers.
My story is not uncommon. There is no direct path for how to get a job; careers today are not as linear as they once were. People change jobs and industries all the time. If you’re thinking about making a big career change, but are concerned that you lack the experience, don’t fret. You can make the change if you’re willing to do a little extra work. Here is how to get a job in a new career without having industry-specific experience.
1. Network. All day, everyday.
We’ve all heard the expression, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Relationships matter, especially when you’re job searching. Many, if not most, job openings are not published on traditional job sites. Employers tend to rely on their networks to fill positions before advertising them to the general public. When you’re looking to transition into a new industry, it’s a good idea to put on your networking shoes and take them for a spin. Having face to face contact with players in your chosen industry will give you a chance to tell your story, as well as build relationships with the people who are in the best position to help you when a job becomes available. Joining a professional organization or a LeanIn Circle is a great way to meet people in your new industry.
2. Go on informational interviews.
When you’re starting out in a new field, it can take some time before you land an interview. In the meantime, reach out to people for informational interviews. These informal interviews are a great way to meet people, learn about your new industry and get helpful advice about how to approach your search and transition.
Reach out to people in your network or ask people you know to make introductions for you. Use LinkedIn to find people in your chosen industry with whom you might have a shared connection or shared background (e.g., someone who went to your college). If you’re a recent graduate, you can utilize your career services department to put you in touch with alumni and others who would be willing to speak with you. Make the most of your interview by being prepared with an agenda for the meeting and asking thoughtful questions. You never know when you're speaking with a potential employer!
3. Review and revise your resume.
Resumes are not one-size fits all documents. Your resume should always be tailored to the position you want and should emphasize different skills depending on the role for which you’re applying. If you’re changing industries, be sure to highlight the most relevant transferable skills and list those first. Be sure to also highlight your biggest achievements. Even if you don’t have work experience in the field, employers want to see that you’re a problem-solver who adds value to the organizations for which you’ve worked. Finding a job is less about matching the job listing and more about having the skills you need to excel in on-the-job training.
4. Beef up your cover letter.
If you are taking the traditional cover letter and resume route, make sure that your cover letter is strong and adequately explains what motivated you to make a career change, how your current skills and experience can translate in this new industry and how you can help the company achieve its goals. While you want to be detailed and passionate, make sure to keep your cover letter at an appropriate length (no more than one page) and make sure that it is focused, error-free and compelling. Your cover letter is the precursor to a job interview, so make sure the hiring manager sees the best version of you.
5. Get creative.
In today’s competitive job market, employers are looking for candidates who stand out. More and more people are using creative methods for getting noticed by hiring managers. Creating a YouTube video, developing a website or crafting a presentation that solves a problem for the company are some ways you can differentiate yourself and showcase your personality and skills, even without prior experience. If you’re looking to transition into a creative field, using a non-traditional application strategy could be particularly valuable.
Although you won’t be receiving a paycheck for your work, volunteering always pays off. The experience you gain and the people you meet when volunteering are invaluable. Through volunteer work, you get to experience what your new career will look and feel like, you can work with multiple organizations and you can start building relationships with people who can later serve as references. In some cases, you may even be hired as a full-time employee after a successful run as a volunteer organization's go-to guy (or gal).
7. Go back to school.
If you’ve been out of school for a long time, the prospect of going back might feel daunting — especially if you have a full-time job. But heading back to class might be worthwhile when making a transition into a new industry. Whether it’s getting a whole new degree or taking online courses for a certification, putting in the time to learn the basics of your new industry can not only help to prepare you with important knowledge you’ll need for the job, but will also signal to employers that even though you don’t have industry-specific experience, you’re serious about this transition and are worth the risk.
8. Be confident.
When you’re lacking experience, it can be easy to fall victim to self-doubt and lack of confidence. But just because you don’t have experience in a specific industry doesn’t mean that you don’t have any experience at all. If you come into a new situation with an apologetic attitude, you’re not likely to make your hiring manager want to take a chance on you. Make a list of all of the skills you bring to the table and your most notable achievements. Just before an interview, or anytime your confidence wavers, take a look at the list and remind yourself that you’re a rock star. This small dose of positivity will help you to maintain your confidence when you need it most.
9. Be willing to start at the bottom.
An entry-level role might not seem very appealing if you’ve been in the workforce for a long time, but if you’re changing industries, you may have to start at the ground floor in terms of both position and pay. Remember that this won’t be forever; everyone has to pay their dues at some point. Roll up your sleeves, work hard and prove that you’re promotion material to start moving up the chain and into a leadership role.
10. Be patient.
Making big changes are never easy and they rarely happen quickly. Career transitions are no different, and it can take time before you’re able to get your foot in the door. No matter how long it takes, don’t give up. Continue putting in the time and the effort and eventually the opportunities will come your way.
Natalia Marulanda is a former practicing attorney who currently works on women's initiatives at a law firm New York City. She also runs The Girl Power Code, a blog dedicated to empowering women in the workplace and in their daily lives.