5 ways to crack the job market when “you don’t have industry experience”

One of the biggest bugbears by job seekers is not winning an interview because they don’t have the industry experience for the role they have applied for.  It seems that every job ad wants ‘industry experience’ – you must have worked in the wine industry or have banking or financial services experience.  This criteria and restriction make it pretty hard for you to join new industries or escape the one you may have a long-standing career in.

Last week during a career coaching session, I was asked what advice I had to break through this. How can I get the attention of the hiring manager when I don’t have the industry or specific job-title experience?

I’ll admit this is hard – especially when the person doing the recruitment is following a strict process, looking for specific criteria and they are purely assessing applications and resumes based on this.  However, any effective business leader knows that the best hires are the ones that match the culture and value of organisation – this is the talent that performs and stays long term.  Conversely, someone with years of experience in a particular industry does not guarantee job performance or success.

My tips to break through this frustrating cycle:

  1. Phone call – ring before you apply! Especially if you feel that your resume is not going to immediately show a match between your experience and the role.  This is an opportunity to sell yourself and make a good impression over the phone, before they see your resume and make an immediate “no” assessment.  I have often interviewed candidates who seem a bit ‘left field’ for a role, purely based on the impression they gave over the phone. Remember confidence, passion and effective communication goes along way to opening a door.
  2. Talk to the direct report – often the person running the recruitment is not the technical expert for the position and is purely following a process.  If there is an opportunity to connect with the direct report and speak to them about the role, it may give you an advantage.  You are potentially able to engage the attention of the person who has the vested interest in getting the right person. This way they will be on the look out for your details or at least may ask the recruitment team about your application.
  3. Write a killer cover letter – the best way to get into the “maybe” pile or even better yet the “yes” pile, is to get your cover letter noticed. Most cover letters suck. Really – they are bad to awful.  Applicants tend to say I am excited to apply for this role and then rehash their resume details. Boring! The best cover letters will be SPECIFIC as to why you have applied for THIS role and what interests you about the company.  It is also the only opportunity you have to demonstrate transferable skills and competencies if you don’t have industry experience – don’t waste this opportunity! Finally – be clear in your motivation.  Don’t say what’s in it for you eg: career progression, new challenge, different industry.  Say what’s in for them to have you on their team?
  4. Resume – see 10 ways to get your CV noticed.  The best resumes have a clean font, 3-5 pages, facts and figures minus personal opinions and have great detail about companies worked for and achievements.  If you don’t have industry experience – you need to demonstrate similarities such as size of companies, clients you have worked with, deals you have negotiated or projects you have managed.  Keep linking your standout competencies to show transferable skills.
  5. Persistence – you have to keep trying to make progress.  It is unlikely someone is going to tap you on the shoulder and say hey you’re fabulous for this role, even though you have never worked in this industry! I remember assisting a candidate who was determined to work in the not-for-profit sector, even though she had no experience in the field. Her career spanned many years across banking and financial services, but she had a burning desire to make the leap into this new industry.  After several applications, she won a role when she was able to demonstrate her transferable competencies – the clincher though was her motivation, values and passion that won her the role, not the years of experience in the same industry.

What can often be a frustrating experience in the journey towards a new opportunity or new career path, needs to be seen as a challenge to become more creative! Seize the chance to review your skills and competencies and then communicate your motivation succinctly to give yourself the best possible chance

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