How to Break Into a New Field (When You Don’t Have Industry Connections)

“It’s not what you know, but who you know.” This classic job-hunting saying has given me a lot of anxiety in the past. After a big move from Pennsylvania to Florida and out of the pharmaceutical industry, I hoped to break into the nonprofit sector in a completely different role, but I had no local connections.

Despite what the old adage said, I was able to land a job in my chosen field within a few months. My story isn’t an anomaly; you can do it, too. Here’s how to pull it off.

Identify what your dream job requires

Before sending out applications, make sure you understand what your target job really entails. Search employment sites like Indeed to find roles that are similar to your dream job.

Review each job description and be brutally honest about how you measure up. For example, I had worked as an event planner and wanted to move into nonprofit marketing. One of the requirements many jobs mentioned was excellent social media skills, like creating editorial calendars, evaluating new platforms, and deciding what content fit in each space.

While I used Facebook and Twitter personally, I had no experience with social media sites for business use. It was a major weakness that I knew I had to improve. By studying online tutorials, attending courses, and following key influencers, I built the skills I needed to succeed.

Once you see what skills you lack, you can take steps to fix it and improve your candidacy.

Build your skills

When you find your weakness, identify ways you could build a strong foundation in those areas. You could take online classes or a course at a community college, reach out to a mentor for guidance, or read books from leading experts in your chosen field. Once you have an idea of how the basics work, you can begin to practice on your own.

I started by simply searching online for “best social media practices for businesses.” I learned about how to evaluate your audiences, the importance of planning and scheduling posts, and how to track progress. From there, I practiced setting up a calendar and scheduling posts with Hootsuite and CoSchedule using dummy accounts, and examined the platform analytics. Within a few weeks, I was proficient in several different platforms, and my dummy accounts had hundreds of followers.

Volunteer to gain experience

Before leaving your old field, it’s important to get some practical experience to bolster your resume. Many people think the only way to do that is through a paid job, but that’s not always true. Volunteering with a local nonprofit can help you practice your skills while giving back to the community.

I volunteered at a local horse rescue. Rather than working on the farm, I offered to help them launch and manage their social media pages. I developed their pages from scratch, created an audience analysis, and scheduled posts. Their following grew quickly, and I gained much-needed experience. Even better, I could include links to those pages on my resume and cover letter to highlight my achievements.

Nonprofits often need professional volunteers to help them with areas of their work. You could design a brochure, update their website, or help their accountants. You’ll get a firsthand look at what the job really entails, all while building your resume.

Tailor your resume and cover letter

Instead of simply listing the tasks you do in your current job, use your resume to highlight why you’re a good fit. Using the job description as a guide, emphasize your skills and volunteer work to show your accomplishments.

Your cover letter can be a great tool for explaining how your experience relates to the company’s needs. Instead of focusing on what you lack, showcase your rationale for the change and why you’re passionate about your chosen field.

For example, if the job calls for someone skilled in web design, you could write that you redesigned the organization’s website to make it mobile friendly. Or if you helped a nonprofit with a donor letter, you could highlight that in an application for a job as a content writer. With specific examples, you can make yourself stand out.

Land the job

Switching to a whole new field can seem daunting. For me, it was well worth the effort. Now, I create content for organizations of all sizes, including nonprofits. I’m doing what I love and get paid well to do it.

You can accomplish your goals, too. By understanding what the job requires and learning new skills, you can get the experience you need to land the perfect job.