Do You Need Industry Experience? What It Is and How To Get It
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Companies look for candidates with industry experience so that they can add new employees with specific skills to their workforce and minimize the amount of training they need to provide. Industry experience is most important for those whose work involves technical skills and specialized knowledge that take years to gain. Some employers may be willing to train a candidate without industry experience if they are a good fit and ready to learn. In this article, we talk about what industry experience is, when you really need it and how you can accumulate it for your resume.
What is industry experience?
Industry experience is time you have spent and knowledge gained from working in a particular industry or sector of the economy. The meaning of industry experience can vary depending on the context—sometimes it is very specific, like manufacturing a certain product, but it can also be more broad, like working within the media or IT. Industry experience is more specific than work experience, which refers to all jobs you've held in any industry.
Is industry experience important?
Many jobs listings ask for candidates to have a certain number of years of industry experience in order to attract experienced professionals. For jobs that require many hard skills, industry experience is usually less negotiable. For example, specific technology or manufacturing processes require technical skills that take years to learn. For jobs that require more soft skills, your skills and experience from jobs that are less related may transfer perfectly into the new position. Reading the job description carefully and researching the position can help you determine whether you need industry experience.
Here are some instances when you may or may not need industry experience:
When you need industry experience
Industry experience can be very important if you're looking to get a job at a higher level, in a technical specialty or with a government agency. Here are some ways to tell that a job requires industry experience:
Jobs involving complex technical operations: Some manufacturing, repair and service jobs involve using powerful tools and techniques. Companies look for candidates with experience in these areas to keep their operations running smoothly and safely.
Jobs requiring specialized degrees: In some fields, mid-level or senior-level jobs require specific levels of college education. For example, you need a master's degree in library science to be a librarian. As you complete your education, you accumulate the expertise and industry experience that these jobs require.
Jobs requiring licensing: Many jobs require a specific license or certification in order to work. For example, engineers need a Professional Engineer license. However, when a job listing mentions a license, read carefully: Some jobs are willing to hire you before you have the license if you work toward it and become licensed while you are working for them.
Jobs involving specific software or tools: Companies that use industry-specific complex software may be looking only for candidates who know how to use it. For jobs that require several specific proficiencies, the employer may be willing to train a candidate who knows how to use several or most of the tools, but not all.
Government jobs: Government agencies create listings that are as fair and open as possible for all candidates, so they list only the most basic qualifications. Candidates without those qualifications can't perform the job, so they aren't considered.
Related: Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills
When you don't need industry experience
Jobs that involve mostly soft skills are usually more accessible to candidates with a variety of experiences. Here are ways to tell that a company may be open to a variety of candidates:
Jobs with employment-related skills: If you specialize in a certain part of business operations, like human resources, project management or team management, your specialization may be enough to get you a similar job in a different industry.
Jobs with entry-level language in the job description: Some companies seek candidates they can train to their own in-house styles and processes. Job descriptions that are listed as entry level or mention phrases like "candidate must be willing to learn" or "no experience needed" may fit this category.
Jobs that require other kinds of experience: Employer could seek candidates to bring a fresh perspective to their company or for specific skills that they feel transfer to their work. If a job listing asks for work experience, they are likely looking for someone who can be reliable and work hard. If they ask for experience with one particular program or skill that you have, consider applying even if you have not used that skill in that specific industry.
How to get industry experience
If you need industry experience for a certain position, try these steps:
1. Define the industry
Start by determining the industry of your desired job. If you are unsure, look at how job websites categorize it. Once you know the broad industry, research the sectors of that industry and see how closely they relate to each other. For example, a broad industry could be retail and the sectors could be clothing retail and furniture retail. If the areas are closely related, any experience you have could be industry experience. If the areas are more distinct, seek experience with jobs or companies that are very similar to your desired role.
Read more: 19 Types of Industry Sectors
2. Learn about the entry process
Determine the requirements you need to get the job you want in the industry. Colleges and professional associations often provide clear steps for gaining the knowledge, skills and licenses needed to enter the field. Search for articles or interviews from professionals who hold those jobs to gain different perspectives on the process. You also might reach out to a professional in the field to arrange for a coffee, job shadow or informational meeting to ask your own questions and make a network connection.
3. Find your first opportunity
Once you understand how others have gotten industry experience, you'll have a good idea of what your first steps should be. As you begin applications for any internships, schools or jobs, consider who can connect with for help. Your friends, family and broader network can provide references and advice for your next steps. Your first opportunities in the industry have great educational potential, so take advantage by asking as many questions as possible and learning as much as you can.
How to apply for a job without industry experience
You might apply for a job without industry experience if you are just entering the workforce as a high school or college student or graduate. You may also consider applying for jobs where you do not have industry experience if you are trying to switch industries. Here are some things to consider when applying for jobs as a candidate with limited experience:
1. Determine what the employer is looking for
Sometimes job listings that are entry level or ask for "one to two years of experience" do not expect you to have one to two years of experience in that specific position or industry. Look at the listing closely, particularly the description of the role and the desired qualities or skills. If you have those skills, you may be able to present yourself as a compelling candidate with your experiences from coursework, volunteer work or experience in other industries.
2. Emphasize your relevant experience
Even if you don't have industry experience, you likely have skills and experiences that prepare you for the job. This might be customer service skills you gained through volunteer experiences or leadership skills you have through participating in a group or nonprofit. You may have done coursework in a college or high school setting that applies. Be clear on how these skills prepare you for the job in a cover letter, and consider reformatting your resume to put this relevant experience at the top.
Related: How to Get Your First Job in 8 Steps
3. Use two-part answers in interviews
If the interviewer asks specifically about industry experience, you have an opportunity to explain how you are qualified for the job. Be honest about your amount of industry experience and then explain why you think you are a good fit. Highlight any knowledge or experience that you believe makes you a good fit.
Example: "When I worked for my last company, I used a similar modeling program every day, modifying older plans to meet new state requirements. I don't have significant experience with architectural software, but I am eager to learn, and I think my coursework in 3D visualization gives me a solid foundation to build on."
4. Continue building skills and experience
Continue to work toward getting a job, but consider developing your resume at the same time to make yourself more competitive. New opportunities at your current position, volunteer work or individual college courses can help you build industry experience.
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