How to Change Careers and Get Hired in a New Industry

by Vault Careers | June 11, 2012

Karen Amatangelo-Block recently changed jobs after working nearly a decade and a half in recruiting at large law firms. She is now the Director of Global Recruiting at Abt Associates, a consulting firm with 2,300 staff worldwide that focuses on health, social and environmental policy, and international development. Here, she reports for Vault about the challenges she has faced since changing industry. (Note: for a taste of Karen's day-to-day life in her new role, be sure to check out her Day in the Life profile on Vault, too). Over to Karen:

I went from knowing how to recruit from the top law schools in the country to having to learn what key skills are needed be a successful climate change economist (okay, so I'm still working on that).

Working at Abt Associates has been transformative for me. The opportunity to contribute what I know about recruiting, building a team and streamlining hiring processes to an organization with a mission of improving the quality of life and economic well-being of people worldwide is extraordinary. We hire really committed people. They all share important commonalities – they are business savvy and enjoy working with diverse clients, but most importantly, they share the desire to make a difference in people's lives.

Recently, I've been asked a number of questions as to how and why I went about my career change. These questions and my answers follow. Hopefully this advice will strike a chord and possibly inspire some of you to act on your intuition that you can make a change if you're seeking a career move.

Why did you want to leave the law firm and how do you know changing fields is right for you?

Coming to a decision to change jobs after many years in one industry is not an easy one. Do calls from colleagues or headhunters for better or different jobs in the same industry not appeal to you because it sounds like more of the same? Have you actively tried to reinvent your role, taking on a different project, branching out into a new space to no avail? Do you feel like you're no longer learning in your job and just doing the same thing year after year? If so, then switching industries rather than just jobs might be right.

How do you learn what is the next move for you?

Consider your upside and your strengths. Do an inventory of what you like most about your work. Do friends and colleagues tell you "you should do x"? Does that job exist? Or, if you like your job, but not your field, what are the pieces that you would like to change? I was in a management training seminar two years ago where I completed a communication style analysis and received scores that were out of whack. The presenter plainly said to me, "it looks like your values are not aligned with your responsibilities."

She was right. If you can discover your best skills and your values, you have now identified your story that will get you hired. You have a better answer to the "why do you want to work here" question that will set you apart from the crowd.

How do you get an interview?

Research and connect.

The person who eventually hired me told me: "If I saw your résumé in the pile of applicants, I would not have picked yours out." After that vote of confidence, the interview began.

I was able to reach that point and get that interview only because I was diligent in my approach. As I considered my next steps, I would see a job posting and then find out if I knew anyone at that company or had a friend in the same space. I would talk to them and ask them to tell me if they knew anyone I could talk to that had a similar job. I used LinkedIn to talk to people that my colleagues and friends know, and connected with everyone who could help inform my decision-making. Most professionals on LinkedIn are looking to make connections and are willing to share advice or make an introduction. Your ability to fearlessly make connections (albeit with some reason for reaching out) will eventually pay off. Finally, I did my research and read as many articles as I could about the industry and the company I was applying to.

In my experience, few candidates actively engage in networking and data research, and instead they rely on their CVs alone. You need to do more. Eventually, I did connect with an employee at Abt who forwarded my résumé on, and I made it to the screening phase, despite the fact that my boss "would not have picked me out of the pile."

How do you land the job after the initial interview?

Everyone I met with at Abt asked me about my qualifications—given what appeared to them as a non-traditional background for the industry. You must be able to articulate how this new role is not dissimilar from the work you have been doing—that you are not a non-traditional candidate and that you bring additional skills to the company that they need. In truth, you do have skills that you've learned in a similar industry that are very valuable to companies in other industries.

Are you now applying for a non-profit job but you have never worked at one? Focus on your volunteer experience and your community service work. Do your homework—you have to learn and understand the new business and be able to show how you can and will make a meaningful contribution. Be specific about your skills and be sure your story persuades the employer that you will have very little learning curve.

In this transition I learned that once you understand a business you can apply your skills to help it grow. You need to get to know the people at the organization, learn their needs, understand their feedback, and soak up every opportunity to learn.

I imagine Abt might say that I bring a new point of view on talent acquisition. I would say Abt has given me a new outlook. After nearly 15 years in an industry, it's not too late to get re-engaged and energized about who you are and what you do. 

Filed Under: Interviewing | Job Search | Networking


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