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How do I break into a new industry?

I've been working for 20 years since I graduated from college -- 17 years at a nonprofit research institute and then the last 3 years at a large U.S. bank. My focus has been on identifying, selling/pitching, evaluating and experimenting with innovative ideas in a brought range of areas -- new research approaches, novel data science (eg, AI/ML) use cases, ways to use emerging tech to make core lines of business faster/cheaper/better, and new products & services. I left both of the last organizations when my leadership changed and there was no longer an interest in investing in more exploratory innovation (horizon 2 or 3). I see lots of companies that are investing in this type of innovation, but not many in the industries in which I have experience. How can I get the attention of recruiters and higher managers and convince them that my skillset is very transferable?

Thank you comment icon Its difficult to be in front of the last advances because tech advance more fastly than ever, but i think the most importar is to be a specialist in some specific area. In your case i think is important to develop projects that involve the area that you wanna work now, that is the best way to prove recruiters and managers you have the knowledge and experience to work in others areas. However, in your particular case, you have been working for 20 years, so in some way enterprises dont lok at you like a rough diamond so they expect you to contribute something of an advanced level in a specific area. If you want a change of scenary is ok. But, I recomend you to keep going to your actual lines of bussines and try to become and expert who enterprise dont resist to hire for their team Andre

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Matt’s Answer

Hey Brent,

With the current environment (July 2023), a lot of companies are cutting back on what they believe are non-core areas.
This means, a lot of projects may be scrutinized for outcomes/output - especially exploratory things.
It is an unfortunate reaction of "gotta keep the cash together", saving money now while sacrificing potential future viability.

Please keep that in mind when looking for exploratory research/innovation - the economical environment may be stacked against that, at least for the moment.

With that being said, your ability of "selling" things might be ideal and something that organizations might be looking for.
A lot of technical folks are brilliant in building solutions and struggle to translate "tech to dollars", which will cause them to be overlooked or brushed aside by business leaders.

What you could consider is rebranding yourself as an innovation consultant with a focus on "getting more dollars out of innovation". This can then be a role that both helps struggling organizations to sell/use whatever they've already done OR reinvigorate ailing research departments that are failing to demonstrate their value to the business.

Your core transferable skillset seems to be around innovation and selling - and that can be abstracted to apply to pretty much every industry.
Being an outsider can be made an asset if you focus on bringing a "fresh pair of eyes" and tying why your experience can be translated into more revenue/outcomes. When taking a look at your experience (and CV), make sure that all stages have quantitative outcomes of your contribution, so that it is blindly clear to any hiring manager why you are an immediate net-positive to hire.

That's at least what I got from my end. Good luck out there!
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Dino’s Answer

Hello Brent,

Thank you for getting in touch with us. I appreciate your perspective, especially considering the breadth of experience you bring to the table. Why not take a moment to reflect on the aspects of your career journey that have brought you the most joy?

Your rich tapestry of work experiences, all of which you've identified as transferable, is an excellent asset. This will undoubtedly provide you with a strong foothold in the industry you're passionate about and where you're much needed.

Remember, your current situation is common among seasoned professionals seeking new challenges and excitement. It's perfectly okay to crave change, which in your case, might not necessarily mean a career shift but rather a change of scenery.

Given your extensive background, you're likely ready for a promotion or even a leadership role. Your experience could propel you to a position where you can guide and mentor others.

So, what's next on your agenda? What other goals do you aspire to achieve as part of your mission? What objectives do you have in mind for your next work environment? Perhaps it's a renewed sense of purpose you're after?

Keep pursuing your dreams, Brent. You've already achieved so much, and it's time to bring your wealth of knowledge and skills to an organization that will truly appreciate your worth. Best of luck on your journey!
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Atul’s Answer

Venturing into a new industry after having 20 years of experience in another can be quite daunting. However, you can leverage your expertise by joining a startup company that's developing AI/ML solutions. It may not be easy to find such a company, but if you're in California, consider attending trade shows like RSA or Blackhat, which focus on cybersecurity. This strategy can be applied to other industries as well.

You might have to accept a lower salary initially, but it's a step towards getting your foot in the door. Remember, employers are eager to hire due to a talent shortage. If you secure an interview, prepare thoroughly by researching the company and treating it as if it's the last employer willing to consider you.

Don't rule out the possibility of relocation if it's necessary. Lastly, pinpoint the role you're interested in. Is it sales, marketing, or something else? Make your career aspirations clear and go after them.
Thank you comment icon Thank you, Atul! Excellent advice. I'll take some time to consider the type of role (where in an organization) I'm most interested in and areas where I think I can add value and come up with a rank list, and and I'll also look into startups that may be a good fit for me and my skillset. Brent
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Martha’s Answer

I can empathize, Brent. In my career, I have faced similar challenges as I switched from telecommunications to commercial lending, credit cards, consumer products, medical reporting, and software. Here are some suggestions:
- You have already navigated a very difficult transition - from nonprofit to for-profit. What worked for you then (and what didn't seem to help)? Your own experience is probably the best teacher.
- Potential employers may mix up skills and knowledge and not realize the transferability of skills. So, unfortunately, you may need to explain simply and directly how your skills apply to the job you're applying for. Quantification of how your skills helped previous employers is great - how much money you helped the company make or save , how much faster you made a process, how much you helped increase customer satisfaction, etc.
- As for the knowledge specific to that industry, provide examples of how you have gained knowledge quickly in previous jobs and state directly your commitment to continually learning and keeping your skills fresh. Be prepared to discuss how you learn a new role, emphasizing your initiative, powers of observation, and willingness to study on your own

Apologies if this sounds like a lot of work. Once you have your examples / stories, you will be able to use them multiple times and, if necessary, multiple job hunts. Good luck!

Martha recommends the following next steps:

Analyze what worked for you (and didn't work so well) in your transition from a non-profit research institute to a major bank
Write examples mentioned above in the STAR format - situation, task, action, and result - so you will have them for future interviews
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Vinnie’s Answer

Hello Brent,

I transitioned careers about 7 years ago after accumulating 15 years of experience, and I must tell you, it wasn't a walk in the park getting past the recruiters. However, I discovered a strategy that worked wonders for me - attending data meetups to network with people. The challenge was that most attendees were in the same boat as me. That's when I decided to take a different approach by looking up the speakers on LinkedIn and reaching out to them. To make this work, you need to craft a friendly message requesting their guidance, not necessarily a job offer. Most people are more than willing to share advice, but might not be open to discussing job opportunities right off the bat.

Wishing you the best of luck,
Vinnie
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