EditorialsBy Matt Bud, Chairman, The FENG

Selling into a new industry

It is not unusual, and is perhaps typical, that members of The FENG would like to change industries. I wish I could tell you that this is easy. Unfortunately, I think the phrase “easier said than done” is applicable here.

Of course, someone telling me that a project is impossible is always a good way to gain my interest and I hope yours as well.

The trick is to understand the nature of the person with whom you are communicating and how best to “work them.” Now, nothing evil here, but an understanding of your “customer” and how they think about things is very much in order.

When working with retained search firms and contingency firms, to a degree they get paid “the big bucks” for delivering an exact specification sheet. If any old run-of-the-mill Chief Financial Officer will do, that is probably not the kind of job that will be put out to search. A simple posting in our newsletter or on LinkedIn will likely provide an effective solution.

And if you take a typical job description, industry knowledge is frequently a key requirement. But, you argue, I have applicable skills!

Okay, if that is true, the burden is on you to “prove your case.” (See, I don’t always use sailing analogies. I even try to use colorful expressions from the legal profession as well.)

Before you get yourself painted into a corner, try to think like your customer and understand that the link between your current industry and the one in which you have found the perfect job may not be clear to anyone but you.

What is it about the “success skill set” in the new industry that in your mind creates the bridge between what you have been doing and what you want to do?

It may be as simple as having sat on the other side of the table. Is the new industry a supplier to your old firm? Well, then you know the customer’s point of view, and that could be valuable to your new employer.

Is the nature of the folks who make things happen similar? For example, the advertising industry is full of individuals with egos as big as all outdoors. The same is true of the individuals who run any of the major law firms. Time billing is a big issue in advertising. The same is true at a law firm. (Talk about jumping from the frying pan into the fire! But, we won’t get into that tonight.)

Is your current industry dominated by small consumer accounts? Well, that can be the link.

The important thing is to make the case early in the process. After your background has been presented and rejected by the client, it is too late. Folks in the search business rarely revisit their decisions. As powerfully persuasive as you may feel you are, arguing with a recruiter who is calling to tell you that you haven’t been selected is like spitting into the wind. (I knew I could get a sailing analogy into tonight’s editorial!)

Regards, Matt

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