Why Executives Should Consider Switching Industries for Career Growth

Why Executives Should Consider Switching Industries for Career Growth

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Take these two scenarios as examples. 

One executive has moved up the corporate ladder at the same company, starting as a manager and eventually getting promoted to an executive role.

For the past 15 years, he’s worked at the same company, and he’s stayed in the same field throughout his career. He has a robust knowledge of his specific sector and an even more comprehensive understanding of trends in his organization. 

In contrast, another executive has moved around from company to company throughout her career. She started out as a manager in financial services before securing an executive-level role at a tech company. She opted for a lateral move to a marketing firm in order to build her skills. 

Both executives apply for a promotion at a company in a new sector with which neither is affiliated. Which of the two of them won the role? 

The second executive, of course. Though the first executive’s deep knowledge of his organization and sector is valuable, the latter executive’s cross-industry experience added value that set her apart. 

In speaking about why multi-sector executives (CEOs specifically) are so successful, M.S. Rao, Ph.D., said to Training, “CEOs with cross-industry experience are often curious and ask questions to understand the systems and structures. They are free from preconceived notions and ideas since they come from different industries. They are adaptable and open to learning and exploring.”

Here, Rao suggests that these leaders’ lack of experience in the field – and unfamiliarity with “business as usual” – is what helps them succeed. 

If you’re an executive who has spent much of your career in one field, here are some reasons you should consider switching industries for career growth.


✅ Transferable skills are more important than deep industry knowledge.

In today’s corporate landscape, executive skills are highly transferable.

This is another factor that has led to executives changing fields so often – the so-called “blurring of skills.” From 2015 to 2019, there was a 45 percent increase in CEOs moving across sectors. In other words, they were more easily to jump from field to field since their skills were cross-disciplinary and could be applied to multiple contexts. 

For instance, Daniel Akerson started off in the technology and communications industry before moving into a CEO role for General Motors. Alan Mulally, a one-time Boeing executive, was successful as Ford’s CEO.


✅ You won’t get stuck in a sector in which you’re too enmeshed.

If you’ve never changed sectors, you could get branded as a specialist rather than a generalist.

This isn’t always a problem – unless you’re stuck in a field with limited growth or, even worse, decay. 

So, changing fields can safeguard your future and advance your career. In planning your career move, research growth industries that can power your career. 

“Why join a firm in a printing business that is contracting or a mature industry where stock options may be insignificant? Growth companies are typically propelled by shareholder value. If private, employees often receive options to buy the stock at a low percentage of the price extended to venture capitalists,” said career consultant Barb Poole.


✅ You’ll develop your understanding of how to manage people and streamline processes.

One of the benefits of changing sectors is that you’ll be able to build skills that might have reached peak development in your previous industry.

In other words, you may not recognize how you could become a better people manager if you’ve only seen how leaders in a single sector manage people. 

At the same time, you can be an asset to your new organization because you understand how another sector does business. This knowledge can help you bring innovations to your new field, as well as identify where their practices are less than ideal. 

“Hiring out-of-industry executives at high leadership posts can really help here as they bring a wealth of experience and freshness to people management within the company culture, and also an outsider’s view on the objectives and processes in the business,” said recruiting firm PageExecutive.


✅ Moving into a new field can renew your sense of purpose and motivation.

Even before the pandemic, around 50 percent of Americans had shifted sectors at least once in their careers.

There are many reasons to change fields. For instance, the sector you’re in currently may have a culture of long hours and stressful workplaces, while a different field may offer more relaxed attitudes. 

From an emotional perspective, changing sectors into one that better aligns with your mission and vision can do wonders for your motivation. 

“For example, let’s say you’re a whiz at numbers, and you’ve made a name for yourself after years of working in corporate finance. But, lately, you’ve been feeling disengaged and found yourself daydreaming about working in a field that matters to you,” said ColoradoBiz magazine.


Why You Should Consider Switching Industries for Career Growth


If you’ve considered switching industries for career growth, then now might be the time to make a switch.

Not only will entering a new industry make you more flexible and hirable, but it also could regenerate your enthusiasm for your career. 

Some executives feel stuck in their industries. However, while it may take careful planning to make the leap, you can be seen as an asset to the right company. Ready to take the leap? Watch our recent webinar “Getting Your Foot in the Door When Switching Industries” from executive coaches Claire Harbour and Antoine Tirard.

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