Compelled to Change your Career due to Covid-19? Read what you must consider first

Every industry has been impacted by Covid-19 – but in very different ways, and it is often hard to predict both the short and long term consequences of our current crisis. Industries like transportation, hotels, healthcare, and retail are in the midst of massive change. Some industries are emerging, others are surging, while many will be struggling for years and may not survive.

The challenges that leaders must face within almost every industry are huge – they are expected to leverage the times, protect, and sustain the business, while staying positive and reassuring, no matter the business circumstances. As leaders adapt to the new business reality, they also need to consider their own careers.

For some leaders, 2020 might be the right time to change industries. If you choose to switch industries due to industry distress, you won’t be alone. However, we have found that the #1 reason leaders seek an industry change is for a new challenge and a chance to develop new skills. Other leaders switch to stay “fresh”, to avoid being “boxed in” because of staying within one industry too long.

Marketing yourself for opportunities in a new industry requires a high level of preparation, confidence, and a well-defined game plan. The career pay-off as a result of a successful industry transition is big, especially during a major tectonic shift like we are experiencing today.

Industries, technology, and business models that have recently surged, emerged, or transformed to come out ahead can represent highly desirable growth opportunities for your career. On the other hand, if you are an expert at turnarounds, or managing distressed assets, the troubled industries and companies may present an exciting new opportunity for you. Whether your expertise lies in growth, turnaround, or both, your playing field becomes much larger once you have proven that your leadership skills transfer across industries.

If you have been in the same industry for a considerable amount of time and are concerned about your ability to navigate an industry change, use the guidance below as a call to action.

1) Pursue the right industries and companies

If you randomly pursue all new industries, your search will lack focus and you will appear uninformed and indecisive. Choose industries that have some of the same success factors, relationships, or key performance indicators as your present industry –these industries are considered “adjacent”.

Choose companies that need your unique problem-solving skills. Draft and practice a persuasive case on how your present industry skills and track record are the preferable background for a leadership role in the new industry and targeted company. Run your pitch by an insider within your targeted industry.


One of our clients, a 10-year consumer products CEO, wanted a job within the entertainment industry – specifically a content business. We collaborated on a two-step strategy to target entertainment companies with mediocre performance in merchandising. He was able to make the case that his blue-chip marketing experience would be a major asset within an industry/company that wanted to build a world class consumer product business. He landed a role in entertainment within six months of starting his search. He was able to acquire responsibility for the content P&L two years later.


2) Help your target employer make the leap

Consider the first impression you will make and the lasting impression you will leave behind. Make alterations to fit in. This includes your image, message, business terminology, and communication style. Each industry has its own walk and talk. If an employer cannot see you fitting in, you will not be considered.


A CMO client came to us after a 20-plus year tenure in the alcohol industry. Retained executive search was calling him, but only with big opportunities in the adult beverages industry. He wanted to transition into travel, hospitality, or sports, all adjacent industries to beverages, so we felt his goal was doable.  Having been groomed in the alcohol industry, our client talked and walked in very industry specific ways. For instance,  when speaking about his accomplishments as CMO, he repeatedly referred to his customers as “drinkers,” branding himself an alcohol beverages executive, and when asked for examples of his accomplishments he concentrated on his work with distributors, inventory management and regulatory agencies. If you use business terms, jargon and accomplishments that are associated primarily with your present industry, your style and skills will not be viewed as transferable to your target industries. Your interviewers will conclude you are not a fit.

With new branding and ongoing coaching, our client was able to refer to the right accomplishments which highlighted skills that were valuable within his new target industries, and he took an industry neutral approach to his terminology and style. He landed a C-Suite job in the entertainment industry within seven months.


3) Retained executive search firms won’t be a big help

Check the box, but only spend 10% of your job search time on executive search firms. Retained firms are paid large fees to find a panel of executives that fit the requirements defined by their clients. Few of their clients want an industry outsider, up to and including CEO positions. You may be chosen as a “foil” within their candidate panel, but the odds are not in your favor to get hired. Occasionally, a client of an executive search firm will think “outside the box” in terms of their industry spec, but often they revert to a tried and true industry veteran.


4) Consider investing in help

Changing industries at the leadership level is challenging. Consider hiring an expert to prepare you, guide you, prevent you from making strategic mistakes, and help you stay the course.


Recently, a client engaged us who had been trying unsuccessfully to move from traditional tech to “new tech.” He was the COO of an old school Silicon Valley company and was set on joining a company with an internet-based business model. Our client had deep operational turnaround experience, which was immediately transferable to some of the companies on his target list. We collaborated with our client to identify a very short list of internet companies experiencing operational, quality, and/or efficiency difficulties headquartered within his targeted geography. Then we asked ourselves what about our client’s image, story, message, manner, and style screamed old tech rather than new. What could be changed to “fit in” while retaining his authenticity? For one, his LinkedIn profile needed major revamping, including a new and improved headshot. Then, we spent a good deal of time working on his style of communication which would set him apart, given his age.  Once he was ready, we analyzed his short list, his network, and prioritized companies that had problems he could solve where he would be able to leverage his existing network. He focused on this “sweet spot” to land his dream position within three months.


5) Your existing network matters a lot

Rely on members of your present industry network – they will know about your leadership ability in unfamiliar circumstances, intellectual learning curve, flexibility, tolerance for ambiguity, and speed of adapting to new environments. Not only will they be important references for you, but they may also know people in your targeted industry. An introduction, endorsement, or referral is very powerful when you want to change industries.


6) Stay the course

Changing industries is not for the faint hearted, especially during trying times. You must build your confidence and remain committed. If you want to realize your goal, you must resist the strong temptation to settle for what is available as opposed to what you truly want. Because if you take the easier path when times get tough, you will land exactly where you started.


Founded in 2001, Waterman Hurst is a professional services company that provides strategic job and board search services to leaders. We serve CEOs, C-Suite executives, Next Level Executives, and Advancing Leaders who want to transform their careers. We are the first company to provide B2C high end, high touch comprehensive job and board search services exclusively to leadership clients – we provide expertise in branding, strategy, coaching and serve as agents for top talent.

Share Article: