Overcoming a Lack of Industry Specific Experience

Overcoming a Lack of Industry Specific Experience

  • Posted by Stephen White
  • On March 1, 2018
  • dealing with a lack of industry specific experience, employment obstacles, hiring applicants outside an industry, industry specific experience, overcoming a lack of industry specific experience, overcoming stereotypes


One of the frequent concerns expressed by clients when applying for positions is their lack of industry specific experience.  Oddly, there are two points in the recruitment cycle when prospective employers raise this concern:

1. During the initial screening stage; and

2. At the final interview stage when an employer is trying to decide between two highly qualified applicants.

Workers in an industrial plant

Transitioning between industry sectors can be challenging.





A Personal Perspective

Personally, I have never been a great believer in the business rationale that suggests that industry specific experience is a primary determinant for success.  Just because an applicant may have worked in auto parts manufacturer “A” is no guarantee that he or she will be a success in manufacturer “B”.  Corporate cultures differ both between and within sectors.

Yes….I suppose an applicant with auto parts experience may know something about the industry, as well as the jargon and working environment.   Perhaps their learning curve may be less steep.  However, that in and of itself is no assurance of success.  Labour mobility is dependent upon the ability to shift between sectors.  When employers limit themselves only to applicants from within an industry sector they lose out on high quality candidates.


Which Industry Sectors are hardest to penetrate?

Are there certain industries that are easier to penetrate than others?

Absolutely.  My impressions, and I don’t profess to anything other than empirical evidence, is that retail, consumer goods and financial services are easier to transition into than manufacturing, technology or utilities.

Why?  I think a lot has to do with the traditional male culture that is predominant in some sectors.  The prejudices that have built up over many years and sometimes generations are hard to displace.  Auto parts and automotive manufacturing are often characterized by long hours and rigid work schedules.  Their environments are not family centric, and concepts such as work/life balance are alien to some employers.  Also, many highly technical industries are typified by their unique communication style.  For many, learning the methodologies and acronyms takes time and patience.


Overcoming a lack of Industry Specific Experience

How does an applicant overcome the dilemma of wanting to work in a particular industry but lacking the requisite experience?  Here are some suggestions:

1. Study.  Read everything that is available on the industry, and get to learn the issues, concerns, needs and problems.

2. Network. Contact people in the industry, and meet with them for informational interviews.  If there are industry specific groups on Linked In consider joining them and participate in the online discussions.

3. Attend conferences.  Find out where and when major conferences are held, and make a point of attending.  Use the opportunity to meet others and network.

4. Subscribe to trade magazines.  Read the major trade journals and develop an awareness of the corporate culture across the sector.  Pay particular attention to major and recurring themes.

5. Secure referrals from others.  Use the networks you develop to identify key players and actors in your industry and community.

6. Learn the jargon.  Just as it is easier to communicate in another country when you know the language so it is easier to converse when everyone understands the basic terminology and concepts.  Understanding the jargon is critical to gaining acceptance from prospective employers.

7. Target Startups, Lesser Known or Outlying Employers.  If you are motivated to work in a particular sector don’t confine yourself strictly to the major players in that sector.  Target new and smaller companies, as well as companies in communities outside major metropolitan areas.

Why?  Simply, these smaller organizations are probably less hidebound.  If they are in rural or less populated areas they may have difficulty sourcing qualified individuals to work there.

8. Don’t Forget the Covering Letter.  When applying for jobs outside your industry sector send a covering letter with your resume.  The covering letter allows you to express your motivation for working in this sector as well as highlight your distinctiveness.


Motivation is Key

For me, motivation trumps industry specific experience.  Show me someone with a basic knowledge and understanding of an industry sector who is highly motivated but lacking industry specific experience compared with someone with the industry specific experience but lacking motivation and I’ll choose the former applicant every time.  Unfortunately, recycling applicants exists in recruitment, and too often an employer thinks they are putting a round peg in a round hole when, in fact, they are really working with a broken peg.

In our rapidly changing workplace the ability to adapt, as well as the capacity to seek and find unique solutions, is crucial.  An applicant with the desire, motivation and need to succeed will overcome short-term obstacles and make the commitment to grow into a job.  The argument in favour of industry specific experience makes as much sense as the argument I often hear expressed which states that an applicant needs “Canadian specific experience”.  Sorry, but the fundamentals of finance are the same in Canada as they are in Ghana, Chile or Hong Kong.  Sure, some of the accounting practices and rules may differ, but a debit is the same worldwide.



Despite our expressed commitment to diversity and inclusion the fact remains that many industry sectors are parochial and entrenched.  Overcoming prejudices and stereotypes is hard, but a highly motivated applicant with a resolute desire to enter a new industry sector can often overcome the most stalwart defender of the status quo so long as they have the right approach.


A Final Thought

Are you finding it difficult to penetrate a particular industry sector in which you are interested?  Feel free to contact me for some advice and tips on how to make this happen.




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