It’s hard, but not impossible.
Allow me to share a small piece of personal information with you: until recently (this month, in fact), I worked in the tourism industry.
There are many great advantages and perks to working for a travel agency or tour operator, as anyone who has done it will tell you. Those of us who like working with people receive a real buzz from helping customers to create and enjoy their ‘perfect’ holiday or adventure, and if you’re lucky you’ll usually enjoy at least one or two free (or company-funded) trips to new destinations under the guise of ‘research’ or ‘ground work’ through-out the year.
Until recently, building a career in tourism (one of the world’s largest industries) seemed like a perfect, fail-safe plan. The amount of money spent on tourism around the world was rising every single year, and the social media/influencer buzz was bringing forward a new and exciting trend of ‘off-the-beaten-track’ or ‘like a native’ travel.
Then, of course, COVID-19 struck and the world came to a shuddering, incomprehensible halt. International air travel was restricted, countries closed down, and even those customers who desperately still wanted to explore were hit by unexpected financial issues and unemployment. Seemingly over night, that tall, glorious wave that tourism had been riding came crashing down, and every company I knew started to fear being swept away.
No longer feeling confident that a career in tourism was in my best interests, I began to search for something else – something that still seemed relatively stable in the midst of such uncertainty. Friends, family members and even industry professionals advised me against it (“the pandemic has hit every industry, you’re best staying where you are if you’re lucky enough to have a job”), yet I persisted and I’m happy to say that after around a month or so of searching, I finally landed a job in a career that is not only completely different from tourism, but also one that I have no previous experience in.
So, how did I do it?
Whether you’re currently in a professional role or hope to eventually land yourself one, you absolutely need a LinkedIn account. Gone are the days when only CEOs and high-level marketers used this social network; today the site is overflowing with profiles made by university students, rural-dwelling Japanese sword-smiths and pretty much everyone in between.
LinkedIn allows you to share your CV or resume (aka your profile) with anyone by doing nothing more than sending them a connection request. You can follow industry ‘leaders’ to read their frequent advice posts, apply for roles using the site’s job listing pages, or even receive industry-related certifications by signing up for a premium account and watching some of the many high-quality video courses available on their ‘learning’ page.
Even if all you do is set up your profile and set your status as ‘open to offers’, that’s often enough to start reaping in the benefits. Recruiters and hiring managers invest a lot of time in searching the site for people with certain experience or who live in certain areas, and it’s pretty common for them to send you a connection request or a message in order to share potential opportunities with you, without you having to do any active searching yourself.
What’s more, a free basic account is all that most people will ever need. With such little effort required and such high chances of success, why would you not take advantage of this site?
Asking For Advice
As I mentioned above, my new job is in an industry I have absolute NO experience with. None whatsoever. Sure, I have plenty of transferable skills (and knowing how to make unrelated job experience sound relevant to a role is an art in itself) and a healthy dose of enthusiasm, but that’s not enough to break into a new field during the worst pandemic the world has ever seen, right?
Don’t talk yourself out of an opportunity before you’ve even gone for it. Breaking into a new industry can seem daunting and damn-near impossible, but it isn’t – it simply requires a little bit of extra work.
Before I started applying for jobs in this new industry, I decided to do some research. I wanted to know everything about it, from the basic job requirements and typical promotion structure to where I’d be best applying and what I should be writing on my CV. I started with a Google search and several blogs (aka, the main way my generation researches anything), and then I moved on to asking real industry professionals for advice.
This is where LinkedIn came in. The website often suggests that you should only connect with ‘real life connections’, but I didn’t know anyone in the industry I wanted to join so I ignored this advice and started to connect with anyone in my city with a relevant job title. Some people ignored me; some people added me then didn’t bother to answer my messages. Others, however, leapt at the chance to share some knowledgeable and helpful advice.
I had telephone conversations that led to interviews. I had messenger-only chats with busy professionals who later sent me emails filled with advice when they had time. I received plenty of warnings (“this industry has high turn over” and “no one is hiring right now”), but also plenty of useful feedback (“your CV needs to have X experience highlighted” or “you’re looking in the wrong place, try contacting Y corporation”). One enthusiastic connection lamented that the pandemic meant his company couldn’t give me a chance, and instead decided to become a ‘mentor’ of sorts throughout my search.
With so much advice rolling around in my head, I was able to confidently walk into interviews and tell companies that despite a lack of experience, I had done my research – and then I was able to prove it, as well.
Job boards are a great resource, but I can assure you that if you can find and apply for a seemingly-perfect job, then so can hundreds of other people.
Tired of receiving the same automatic rejections in response to listings on the typical job-seeking sites, I started to try a different and more direct approach.
If a job listing mentioned a company by name, then I would research who the head of HR/hiring was at that company and mailed them my CV directly, along with a personal email introducing myself (this is how I applied for my new job).
If the role was being advertised by a third-party recruiter, I would message them directly as well, and we worked together to perfect my application and fine-tune my CV before I could trust them to put me forward for the role with true enthusiasm and knowledge of my skills and abilities.
This personal touch helped me to stand out amongst the hundreds of other candidates sending the same basic CV and cover letters, and it also allowed me to gain a better feel for the potential company itself through more ‘human’, direct interactions with their hiring managers.
I’m not going to pretend that every interview ended well. Many didn’t, due to either my lack of experience or me simply not being a good fit for the role. I didn’t let that defeat me, however – rather than let it affect my mood and confidence, I instead chose to look at each unsuccessful attempt as a free opportunity to gain valuable insight into the job-hunting process.
One particular interview really wasn’t going well. From the very beginning, both I and the interviewer (an experienced CEO) knew that I would have absolutely no chance of getting the role. Rather than letting the interview flop and wasting my time, however, I decided to ask directly for advice.
When formalities were over and the CEO asked if I had any final questions, I took a deep breath and pushed my luck.
“I don’t think I’m going to be successful this time, but can you tell me what would make me more attractive to you as a potential hire?”
That was the first of a series of questions I asked that CEO, and he indulged me by not only spending an extra 30 minutes giving me some constructive criticism, but also referring me to two other CEOs from other companies that he thought I may be a better fit for.
Not every recruiter or CEO has the time, energy or interest in helping a random applicant to improve their chances at other companies, but as my dad always says – you won’t know unless you ask.
While this article is intended to help you with your own job search, I want to make it clear that I am in no way ignoring the severity of the pandemic’s impact on the job market, nor am I implying that finding a new role is ‘simple’.
Depending on where you live and what industry you’re in/want to enter, there’s a high chance that even following this advice and possessing the world’s most impressive resume simply won’t be enough to help you find a new job – after all, unemployment is at an all-time high and the future is so uncertain that many companies simply aren’t in the position to be taking a risk on new hires when the possibility of another country-wide lockdown continues to linger on the horizon.
What I do hope, however, is that my experiences will at least encourage you to not lose hope. Job hunting is hard and soul destroying even at the best of times, and your potential struggle to find a new role is not a reflection of you or your worth – it’s simply the way of the game. I’m a firm believer that everything takes time, and that nothing happens without reason (although you may disagree, but that’s a topic for another day).
Stay motivated, and keep your head up. I wish you all the very best in your search!