Ian Green had been working in the restaurant industry since he was a teenager. But as an adult he realized that his career path had limitations.
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“I loved it for a while,” said Green, now 32. “But as I got older, the fact that I was never going to get health insurance or live above the federal poverty level…it started to have an impact on me.”
So he decided to go to school while still working full-time as a cook.
When the pandemic hit and restaurants across the US started closing, Green was well-positioned with a newly minted degree in computer science. But he was still nervous. The idea of switching careers as the economy was plunging deeper into a recession seemed particularly challenging.
Nearly 10 million jobs have been lost since February as many industries continue to be ravaged by the pandemic. The restaurant industry, along with travel, leisure and hospitality, and entertainment are among those hit the hardest.
Breaking into a brand new field may seem impossible, especially when you’re competing with so many others.
But here’s the thing: You might be more qualified than you think.
What are your skills?
During his time working in kitchens, Green realized he was also a problem solver, a skill also very relevant in the tech industry. “I was never just the cook, I’ve always been someone they could rely on to solve problems.”
Taking stock of all your skills will help you identify which ones are transferable to other industries, said Paul Wolfe, head of global human resources for employment website Indeed
For instance, those who work in retail, food, or hospitality typically also have experience that transfers well to customer service roles.
In November, there was a 1,325% increase in the number of bartenders applying for credit counselor/loan officer roles, according to CareerBuilder.
“It’s highly communicative and very client facing – having to be empathetic and reading signals,” said Irina Novoselsky, CareerBuilder CEO.
Flight attendants could also be a natural fit for a customer service role, she added.
“Your skillset is: calm under pressure, logistics, patience. Everything you expect from that role – that [matches] with customer service roles.”
Focus on both “hard” skills that might require education or training (like programming languages and accounting) and “soft” skills (like problem solving or communication), recommended Wolfe.
As you review job postings, look for any certifications, trainings, licenses or other requirements frequently mentioned in roles or industries you’re interested in to see if you can fill any skills gaps.
It’s also important to identify any interests or passions that could become new career opportunities.
Green, for example, had always been interested in computers and often found himself diagnosing or fixing his colleagues’ technology problems.
Redo your resume and cover letter
Keep your resume focused on what you can offer a potential employer.
“Don’t focus on the industry that you came from, focus on what you’ve done to help past employers achieve their goals,” said Paul McDonald, senior executive director at staffing firm Robert Half International.
Many companies use applicant tracking software to narrow down the applicant pool, so make sure you’re hitting on the right keywords.
“You have to write a resume that gets past the robot, which is really hard to do,” says Ian Siegel, CEO of ZipRecruiter. He suggests being as specific as possible with your skills. For instance, instead of saying you are “familiar with Excel,” detail exactly what you do: four years of working with revenue models, profit and loss statements and balance sheets.
“Be explicit about your responsibilities and skills. Don’t use prose. Be short and to the point,” Siegel said. So instead of saying: “managed the HR department,” he suggested something like: “In charge of hiring, reviews and terminations.”
While cover letters can be optional, McDonald, said it’s a good idea right now. It gives you more opportunity to demonstrate your skills and experience even if they are in a different field.
“Focus on your return to the employer: If this person were to hire me, what is the return they are going to get?” For instance: You worked on a data analytics project and helped solve high-level problems resulting in a savings of $XX.
Tap your network
Networking looks a little different right now, but it’s still an important step to getting a job – especially when you’re breaking into a new role or industry.
“The vast majority of job opportunities come through someone you know or someone you know who knows someone,” said Jenny Blake, a career strategist.
She recommends sending an email to your network asking for any connections or help. She advised starting out by explaining you have taken some time to reflect and are excited to be moving into a new career, then include a few bullet points about your skills and what industries, companies or roles you are interested in.
“You might not get anything right away… but it opens the door for serendipity.”
Green had reached out to a friend from school last year and had applied to a few open positions at his company. He was surprised when he got a call from a recruiter in September. He was hired in the IT department in a contracting position, but is now working as a full-time employee.
The key to nailing an interview is to show, not tell, said Siegal.
“Don’t answer questions, just tell stories,” he said, adding that you should be prepared with at least two stories that highlight your skills.
During his interview, Green was honest about his lack of tech industry experience. But he focused on how the social skills he learned in the culinary world would translate.
“Having worked so much in a high-pressure industry with a lot of personal conflict among employees, having that experience I am more skilled working with and getting along with people and reading them than the average entry-level employee would be.”