Getting Cross with Cross-Over Careerists

When the economy tanks in one sector, the advice you hear from ABC, CNN, Employment Blogs, HR professionals, and even your second-cousin is that you need to target sectors that are growing. That sounds like really smart advice, but like most mainstream pithy wisdom it has it's flaws doesn't it? And I feel like it is our job as talent identification professionals to knock some sense into the growing ranks of "cross-over applicants".

Only Applicants with Experience Need Apply
The first hurdle that needs to be clearly marked on every job description, during every phone call, every email, basically every time communication is given to a prospective candidate is that getting the job that you don't have any experience in is going to take a lot of upfront work. It is going to be painful and frustrating and exhausting. You are going to have to research industry terms, map every little bit of experience you have and translate how it equips you for these new skills. You are going to have to do pro-bono work, read books, speak to industry professionals to get the language down, gain a mentor that can act as a reference, learn to market yourself and become visible (i.e. sending in a resume will not cut it because your resume will be ignored by any self-respecting recruiter that is trying to give the hiring manager the perfect candidate because no matter what, you are not the perfect candidate). You will have to sell at least 2 people (yourself and the hiring manager) that while you know you are not the perfect candidate today - you will be able to perform better and will cost less within 3-6 months than that perfect candidate they are searching for. Which brings me to my second point...

Companies aren't going to pay you to learn what you should already know

That means if you have an entry-level knowledge as most career cross-over applicants do, you need to expect to make what an entry-level person should make in that field. This is usually a massive salary and benefits cut. It is painful and will be extremely difficult, but after 6 months of proving yourself there will be a pay off. Because in order to get back where you want to be...

You are Going to have to Play the System

That means that if you are fortunate enough to land that entry level job at a salary you haven't seen since you graduated from college, you need to put it on your resume and get back out there. The truth is your first employer took you on because you were a bargain and had something they needed (potentially a butt in a seat), which means they are not interested in helping you move up the ranks quickly - you will have to do this on your own by playing leapfrog. If you picked the right crossover industry, with 3-6 months of buzzword intensive training you will be able to make a lot more money - of course you better be able to deliver as well. Note: this doesn't mean your first company won't be able to see your value and reward you, it just means you would have found the exception, like the company every corporate recruiter supposedly works for ;).

With that Rant Finished:
Can we please figure out a way to communicate to these candidates they are wanted and needed, but it is not the job of HR departments or recruiters or hiring managers to "coach" them. Can we as an industry put out a PBA to all these candidates and tell them that before they go for their 10th meaningless certificate or go back to school for a degree irrelevant to their past experience that "crossing-over" is not a lateral move. That crossing over isn't something to do half-heartedly or flippantly. It is also something you can't do timidly: you have to approach it with tenacity and finality. You need to expect to start 2 to 3 levels below where you currently are. The reason to move to a new sector is not to keep going up the same ladder, it is to start a new ladder (meaning unless you are a gifted acrobat, you have to start at the bottom rung or near it). Otherwise you are better off continuing to pursue opportunities that your experience does explicitly qualify you for and hope/pray for the best.

If this rant offends I apologize: I just had to explain to yet another candidate why his salary expectations are not in-line with the type of experience he has within our industry during our first conversation despite his excellent experience using dated technologies. I wish I could help him, but I know I can't as long as his career expectations aren't in-line with the market.

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