Monday, June 8, 2009

How to Flee an Ailing Industry

by Diana Middleton
Monday, June 1, 2009

With the unemployment rate hitting a new 25-year high Friday, many workers and layoff victims in the worst-suffering industries are looking for safer sectors.

Industries including autos, financial services and retailing have been hit especially hard during the recession, shedding tens of thousands of jobs. Even as the overall job market shows signs of stabilization, companies in some of the worst-hit sectors may recover more slowly, and job-seekers may be better off looking at new industries.

But making that change can be tough. We asked career coaches and human resource experts how to navigate into a new sector.

Redeploy your current skills.

Look for growth industries – or less hard-hit ones – where you can put your current skills to use. If you're an accountant at General Motors, for instance, look for companies in other industries that need accountants. "People often don't want to leave their industries, because they're comfortable there, even when they're miserable," says Trudi Schutz, a Connecticut-based career coach. She suggests job-hunters look for "careers that use those same skills they love, but in a new way." She worked with a former car salesman, for instance, who found work within the last six months as a pharmaceutical salesman.

Which industries to target? Consider employers in healthcare or "green" technology, which are both experiencing growth, said David Lewin, a management professor at UCLA's Anderson School of Management. Education and government are also stronger than most.

But, be willing to learn new skills – in new locations.

Adaptable people who are willing to retrain themselves and relocate will be the most attractive to potential employers, says Max Shapiro, chief executive officer of PeopleConnect, a California-based staffing company.

"Companies want people who can multi-task," he says.

Ms. Schutz suggests going back to school or earning certifications to bolster a resume. "The more senior someone is, the more likely it is that he or she will have to repackage the skills that they already have," she says.

Build a network outside your industry.

Many job seekers have been recruited their entire professional lives, and don't know how to successfully nab a job on their own. Go beyond your usual professional network, says Paula Marks, a career coach and executive recruiter.

Ms. Schutz suggests making a list of your closest contacts, people who "you can trust to brainstorm your wildest ideas." Then, keep talking with people in your network, and asking for them to put you in touch with others. "Chances are, someone will lead you to someone else who will lead you to someone else," she says. "I have a very high success rate when people just talk to every single person they know about opportunities."

Utilize social networking sites, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, and join professional organizations, particularly those that don't define focus on just one industry. Consider religious groups too, says Dee Soder, founder of CEO Perspective Group, an executive coaching firm.

Research other industries in newspapers and online to become familiar with the lingo as you network. "I tell my clients to spend some time reading articles and learning buzz words and slang for different companies," Ms. Soder says.

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