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  • Writer's pictureJason Downes

3/52: Breaking into a new industry takes a 'glass half-full' approach.

For those who don't know me outside of the jazz world, I have a day job in the recruitment industry. It's hard, but rewarding work and as such, I'm regularly speaking with potential employees who are looking to break into the industry.

I took a call from a candidate who was trying to break into the recruitment industry and had read my job advert for "Recruitment Consultant Trainee - Construction". This person had 10 years' solid retail experience with a history of progressing through organisations. In addition she had a wealth of customer service experience, strong sales acumen, and a whole lot of tenacity and resilience built from a decade of challenging work. So why couldn't she get an interview?

I asked her what she'd done to try and get interviews and she told me she'd applied for a dozen or so jobs and barely received a phone screen, and certainly no face to face interviews.

This isn’t an uncommon scenario for candidates (in any industry), so at this point I want to share my observations before giving any advice.


- A lack of relevant experience

- Comparative competition

I want to pull these apart for a moment. On the first point: I'm going to need to train this person how to be a Recruitment Consultant. That's fine, but I'm also going to have to educate them on the construction industry. Realistically, it's going to take them longer to 'get up to speed' than someone who has either recruitment experience or construction industry knowledge. Secondly, they have responded to my advertisement at the same time that nearly 100 other hopeful candidates are sending me their CV and calling to discuss.

I was sorry to have to overlook her despite her many transferable skills and her positive, can-do attitude. Rather than see the glass half-empty though, I was confident there was a practical and 'half-full approach' she could take and passed on my advice for how she can forge ahead.

So if you've worked in a differing industry and now you want to break into the recruitment industry with no recruitment experience, here’s the advice I passed on. There are two things you can do to immediately put you above the pack.

1. Research

Search for the specialist recruitment firms that operate in your industry. Jump on Google, Seek and LinkedIn and search for the specific job titles from your industry: Retail Store Manager, Store Assistant, etc. Which recruitment firms appear again and again? These are the specialist recruitment agencies you should be targeting. This applies to any industry you have proven experience in. You've now dealt with 'lack of relevant experience'.

2. Contact

Use company websites and LinkedIn to work out who your future boss will be - then contact them. Tell them why you're so keen to work with them and how your experience could be valuable to their company. Ask for an opportunity to meet them to discuss it further. You've now cut out the competition by making an impression and approaching them at a time they're not being inundated by other applicants (This is a brave approach but it's exactly the sort of thing a good recruiter would do).

This 'Research & Contact' principle can be applied to any transition between careers. Research employers who will see value in your existing skills/experience, then contact your 'future boss' with your clear value proposition.

I hope that the hopeful candidate who contacted me last week does get a role in recruitment. I think she'll be fantastic and I think she'll hit her straps quickly...and in a year or two I'll be very keen to have another conversation... the meantime, if you've got experience in construction and/or recruitment, please let me know because we're always hiring good people with relevant experience. ;)


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