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How to break into a new field

There is a lot of talk about transferable skills — taking skills and knowledge from one profession or industry and transferring them to a new career.

This is an essential survival technique when you come from an industry that has been deeply impacted by downsizing and you realize the jobs might be gone forever.

But when the job market is tight, what chance do you have when an employer may have plenty of applicants with exact industry and job experience? What do you do if you are an outsider?

Duncan Mathison, executive career consultant and author of Unlock the Hidden Job Market: 6 Steps to a Successful Job Search When Times are Tough, (FT Press) offers these tips.

First, there are a number of reasons a manager might actually prefer an outsider. Here are a few:

The industry is changing so dramatically there is a need for new perspectives and answers.

The critical skills to make someone really successful are people skills in management or customer service. These are the hardest skills to train and the easiest to transfer.

Convenience. They like the person and see that they will fit in well with their team and do not want the hassle of advertising a position. These positions make up the hidden job market — jobs that are filled before an employer advertises an open position.

Try these techniques to break into a new career:

1. Learn the language. Every profession and industry has its own terms and acronyms. For example, what one industry calls a “client,” another will call a “customer.” Translate your skills and background using the words a manager in your target industry will understand.

2. Ask your network of contacts to introduce you people who have broken into your target industry. Find out how they did it and ask them for suggestions about your approach.

3. Do a search on the Internet for powerpoint presentations to learn the burning issues in your target industry and profession. Professional conferences are places where the industry experts meet and share ideas about current challenges or opportunities. Often the presentations are posted on the conference website. Do a Google search with the industry or profession’s name, the term “current trends” and “ppt.” In addition to being able to articulate current professional issues in an interview, you will also learn the names of experts in your target profession who might make good insider networking contacts.

4. Ask people who could hire you what makes someone great at the job beyond the “minimum qualifications” and “years of experience.” Do a gap analysis between the specific needed skills and knowledge that make an employee perform among the top 10% in your dream job, and compare it to your background. Focus on closing the gap with professional reading, targeted classes, and describing your skills and experience to fit the manager’s needs.

5. Focus on the hidden job market where the competition is less and there are a greater number of opportunities through networking and industry research.