9 Tips for Changing Industries When Your Job Goes Away

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Changing industries isn't as hard as you think. Some of the skills you've gained in one career will apply to another. (Credit: Ollyy/Shutterstock)

By Jodi Helmer

Being handed a pink slip is devastating. It’s even worse if you were laid off because of automation or overseas outsourcing because it likely means the career you knew is over.

Before you start scrolling through job postings and applying to everything you see, take a step back, suggests Lisa Lewis, career change coach and career podcast host. “Your next role should be one you can see yourself in for years.”

Successfully changing industries is possible if you follow these expert tips. 

1. Look left and right 

Just because work in your industry has dried up doesn’t mean work in related industries has done the same. Lewis notes that coal mining jobs have disappeared, but opportunities for solar installers abound; commercial fishermen are struggling but aquaculture (fish farming) is booming. 

“Look for the thriving industries and organizations, and strategize about how your gifts could make you useful to their sector,” Lewis advises. “Being willing to be flexible and try your hand in an adjacent industry can give you both quick employment as well as a brand-new set of skills to bring to the table in your future.”

2. Evaluate your skills

Transferable skills are your ticket to changing industries successfully. Lewis suggests making a list of skills that made you effective in your last job — think organization, leadership, communication, problem-solving, reading blueprints, estimating costs or interpreting data, for example. 

Free online tools can help. SkillPointe's two-minute career-match quiz can point you in the right direction. CareerOneStop from the U.S. Department of Labor offers various self-assessments, including a skills matcher that matches your skills to careers that require them. A related site, mySkillsmyFuture, has a tool to help career changers identify transferable skills.

Once you identify your skills, think about what other roles and industries would value them, advises Donna Marino, PsyD, a psychologist and executive coach. And get ready to connect those dots for recruiters and hiring managers. “Understanding your strengths and skills and talking [to prospective employers] about how they equate to a new field can help you find work in a new industry,” she says.

3. Consider career counseling 

Young African American man gets help through career counseling
Confused about what to do next? Career counseling can help you plan a path forward. (Credit: fizkes/Shutterstock)

Talking to a real human who’s guided many other career changers can help you see your options and next steps more clearly. One source of free career counseling is American Job Centers, funded by the U.S. Department of Labor. Find your nearest center here. Goodwill also offers free online career coaching as well as face-to-face guidance from career coaches.  

4. Take advantage of free training and education 

Free training is available, if you know where to look, that can help you get your foot in the door of a new industry. If nothing else, investing time in developing new skills shows potential employers you’re motivated. Free training can also help you figure out which fields you might be interested in before you invest money in education and certification, notes Marino.

You can find a training program designed for people who’ve been laid off by contacting your nearest American Job Center or calling them toll-free at 1-877-US-2JOBS.

Free online classes in topics such as marketing, leadership, digital presentations and computer skills are offered through programs such as Grow with Google and Microsoft Global Skills Initiative with LinkedIn and GitHub. Goodwill’s Training and Career Advancement programs include lessons on using Microsoft Office and Google’s G Suite.

5. Find a company willing to train you

Male and female civil engineers wearing protective vests and hardhats check office blueprints on construction site
In some industries, you can learn the trade through on-the-job training. (Credit: Cineberg/Shutterstock)

Some companies in urgent need of workers will train people who have little or no relevant experience. Look at power companies, construction companies and truck and auto repair shops, for example. Alternatively, a local boot camp may be the springboard you need. For instance, Construction Ready, a four-week construction boot camp in the Atlanta area, helps graduates get placed into full-time jobs. Workers then learn the trade through on-the-job training.

Another pathway to training is an apprenticeship, though some may require previous training or experience. U.S. Department of Labor’s Apprenticeship.gov site connects job seekers, employers and educators with apprenticeship resources.

6. Go back to school

Most likely, the job you envision for your future — whether it’s paramedic, electrician, robotics tech or certified nursing assistant — will require industry-specific training and possibly a certification or license. To help you decide where to go for that training, visit SkillPointe’s Find Training page. And don't forget to look for student support services at the school you plan to attend or local community groups

Another smart move, courtesy of Marino: Call local employers to see which trade schools or training programs they turn to when hiring.

Even when certifications aren’t required, getting one can boost your paycheck up to 18%, according to a certifications report from Lightcast, formerly known as Burning Glass.

7. Seek out relevant experience

Whether it’s through a boot camp, a pre-apprenticeship or even volunteer work, any experience you can gain in the industry you’re targeting is better than none because it shows employers you mean business, says Lewis, host of the Career Clarity Show podcast.

8. Rewrite your resume

Retool your resume to convince recruiters and hiring managers to consider you.

Let’s say you were a school bus driver for the last 10 years and want to become a medical records or health information technician. Instead of starting your resume with your bus driving experience, start it with the transferable skills and core competencies you bring to the table (search “skills-based resume” for templates) and any classes you’ve taken or work you’ve done relevant to the new industry.

9. Stay positive 

When you’ve suffered a career blow, it’s easy to throw your hands up in frustration — but don’t. Changing industries and finding a new career is possible.

“While the economy has shifted in giant and unprecedented ways, that doesn't affect the quality of your existing skills, nor does it affect your character and values,” says Lewis. “If you can stay positive and hopeful and continue taking actions designed to create value for future employers, you'll set yourself apart from other job seekers.”

Jodi Helmer transitioned from a career as a college advisor to a freelance journalist. She has covered education and vocational training for Civil Eats, NPR, Fresh Cup and Garden Center Magazine among others.

Feeling overwhelmed with options?

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