This is the third column in an ongoing series from David K. Williams called “Ask Dave.” This one addresses an important question from marketing manager Heather Nemelka, who is hoping to pivot her career into technology:
Hi Dave! When I was in college, the Internet didn’t exist, and I didn’t know a single computer programmer. Now I live in Silicon Slopes (Utah) surrounded by growing tech companies and I want to pivot to the tech industry. How does a woman (or anyone) make this pivot? It seems that a lot of tech companies require some sort of background in tech for any of their open positions.
Given the fact that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted “far above average” and “above average” job growth in the technology sector , there should be plenty of opportunities to take your current skills and knowledge, and put them to work for a technology company. What’s most important, though, is that you can authentically demonstrate interest in, and passion for, technology.
You don’t need to be an engineer or a software developer to work in technology —just like any other business, every tech company has core business functions like finance, marketing, sales and human resources where solid experience in another industry would make you attractive to a tech company. So, even if you want to transition to a more technical role, your entry point into technology can be an area where you already have experience and knowledge.
Making the decision to pivot in your career doesn’t also mean tossing your current skill set and knowledge to the curb. You can—and will—use both as you take the steps to change your career path. Your unique knowledge and background give you a broader understanding across industries than those who have only been in technology.
That said, I’ve thought about how I would go about moving into another industry, and I can offer four suggestions to help you as you plan for your career transition:
- Assess and continue to build “soft skills” like resilience, courage, self-motivation and proactivity. Technology companies are somewhat uniquely in a state of constant change and growth, so your ability to grow your soft skills and capacity can make you attractive to a fast-moving technology company. In my 7 Non-Negotiables of Winning book, I talk at length about the importance of these key soft skills to the success of businesses, whether technology, manufacturing or any other market sector. It’s never been more accurate.
- Seek out and build relationships with mentors who are already in the technology industry. Use your business and personal networks to make connections that may help you to make the career transition you’re seeking. Many people have helped me along the way, and I have appreciated and valued their mentorship more than I can express. Additionally, consider joining groups in your business community where you can meet and connect with others in your new area of interest. Check into and join organizations in your field—for example, if you were an HR professional looking to move into the technology industry, you might want to join the local chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Same thing for marketing or communications—join the local chapters of the national industry organizations.
- Figure out your knowledge gaps and get to work on filling those gaps. I’m not suggesting you go back to school to get a technology-oriented degree, especially if you already have a college degree in your field—or even a graduate degree. Rather, do your homework to determine the specific knowledge that would create a solid foundation for you and pursue that knowledge. Most companies, tech and otherwise, don’t have time for you to “train on the job,” so if you have already filled in your knowledge gaps, you will have a greater likelihood of success in making a transition. There are many great sources for filling in knowledge gaps, ranging from local community colleges to online resources, and don’t forget to ask your mentor and new industry connections for their recommendations, as well. As part of increasing your knowledge, use this time to investigate and clarify your interests in the technology world. Are you most interested in consumer-directed technology, or is a B2B tech company more exciting to you? Research the kinds of companies that excite you, and learn as much as you can about them. You may find just the right position by periodically checking the career pages for these companies—and then, when you interview for that position, you’ll show your knowledge and understanding of the company and its products or services.
- Develop a narrative that describes how your experience and knowledge translate into your new direction in the technology industry. This can be something you actually write out—start a file on your computer, and keep adding to it as you increase your understanding of how you might fit into a technology company. Many interviews will include a request like, “Describe a problem you faced and how you solved it.” You can take this question a step further when you answer by connecting your response to their company—how your problem-solving skills might apply to common problems in technology. Then go back to the first step in this article and develop a narrative that explains how your soft skills—say, people management—will contribute positively to the company’s success if they are smart enough to hire you. Connect your strengths to the company’s needs.
Pivoting to a new industry can be incredibly rewarding and fulfilling; technology companies need people who bring a broad range of interests, knowledge and experience to drive innovation and growth. So don’t be afraid to make the jump—but do take the time to make a plan.
David K. Williams is CEO of Fishbowl, in Orem, Utah, and author of “The 7 Non-Negotiables of Winning: Tying Soft Traits to Hard Results,” available here.