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How to Break into a New Industry

November 14, 2018

By Sydney Glass

Whether you are just starting your graduate career or preparing to finish, as graduate students, we are all focused on preparing for our career after graduation. For many who are going to graduate school to break into a new field, this task can be more daunting than our studies, as it takes time and effort to find the perfect job, especially when each listing requires or strongly recommends 1-2 years of experience. To make sure that everyone is equipped to take the career world by storm, I am going to share tips that can help you gain experience in your field of study/industry and land your dream job.

  1. Active Job Search: While it is easier to submit several applications at once through a large job portal, it is a passive method, known as “Spray and Pray,” that often does not yield desirable results and can dampen your motivation during the job search. Many people recommend actively seeking jobs by browsing the actual site of the company or organization of interest or attending job fairs in the area where you live. This allows you to receive targeted and correct information about the necessary application materials and requirements for specific jobs. Taking such a direct step to further your career can also help renew your drive and make the overall process go smoothly.[i]
  2. Networking: Ask almost any career-minded person, and they will tell you how important it is to build your professional network before, during, and after the job search process. Having an extensive network allows you to expand your reach and make connections in your field that can later lead to your next professional move. Building the perfect network means including professors, colleagues, and past or current employers that can attest to your character, work ethic, skills, and write reference letters or be a referral when the time comes. If you don’t already have one, you should create a LinkedIn profile as it is a good way to connect with others in the industry in a professional and formal environment. You never have to worry about losing the information of an important contact because you can simply invite them to join your network. This site makes it easy for you to find hiring companies within your industry and for potential employers to locate you based on skills and other eligibility requirements.[ii]
  3. Internships: Some graduate degree programs at Mason are practicum-based, so it allows students to gain experience in the field while they take classes. If your program doesn’t have this option, you don’t need to worry as you can look for experiential learning opportunities, such as internships, outside of your program. The main point is to make sure that it is relevant to your field, and it will provide you with hands-on experience that will be practical in the real world. Completing an internship before entering the workforce is also valuable in helping you figure out if this is the type of work you want to do in your particular industry.[iii] Remember that you can always check with the faculty and advisors in your department to see if it aligns with your program and/or the industry advisors in Career Services as they can provide feedback on the quality and recommend other similar internships. For unpaid internships, make sure you check out Career Services’ Unpaid Internship Scholarship program, which can provide financial support during this experience.
  4. Volunteering: As many internships require applications and lengthy time commitments, it can be difficult for grad students to find room for them in their schedule. Thus, volunteering is the next best option as you still gain experience but there are fewer obligations, and you often establish your own schedule. This allows you to put your status as a student first and continue to be successful in your program. Because volunteer experiences are unpaid, it is, at times, easier to find people who work in the field that are willing to let you shadow them or participate in a research project. By doing this, you enhance the knowledge and skills that you have learned in the classroom and develop techniques that you could only gain from real world exposure.[iv]
  5. Earn Certifications: While certifications may seem less important compared to on-the-job experience, they can provide an advantage and help your application stand out. When hiring managers see that you have the latest certifications in the industry, they can trust that you have foundational knowledge in the specific field and the proper training for the available position. Additionally, up-to-date and advanced certifications can lead to pay raises and make you an invaluable part of the team.[v]
  6. Market Yourself: Some industries require job candidates to submit portfolios along with their applications so that they can evaluate their work. Even if a portfolio is not necessary for the job to which you are applying, it is always best to have one as it demonstrates your preparation for and dedication to the position while highlighting the skills you possess. Being able to present your work in a physical or digital form can often put you ahead of those that may have more formal experience.[vi] Another great self-marketing method is to create your own personal business cards. Having business cards is an inexpensive way to make your contact information readily available and ensure that company recruiters and/or representatives can reach you after an event. This shows them how serious you are about the job search process and your level of professionalism, which could very well lead to a job offer.[vii]

I hope that these tips provide a starting point for new and continuing grad students and help make it a smooth transition for those of you preparing to enter the career world!



This blog post has been edited and updated to reflect current changes in information.

Edited by Sydney Glass, 01/20/2020

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[i] Liz Ryan, “How Will I Gain Experience If No One Will Give Me a Chance?,” Forbes, last modified March 9, 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/lizryan/2017/03/09/how-will-i-gain-experience-if-no-one-will-give-me-a-chance/#79b4045034d5.

[ii] Alison Doyle, “The Importance of Career Networking,” the balance careers, last modified August 23, 2018, https://www.thebalancecareers.com/top-career-networking-tips-2062604.

[iii] Penny Loretto, “Importance of internships for Your Professional Career,” the balance careers, last modified September 13, 2018, https://www.thebalancecareers.com/is-an-internship-really-all-that-important-1986800.

[iv] Adrian G. Larssen, “How to Get Experience in a New Field Without Starting at the Bottom,” themuse, accessed November 5, 2018, https://www.themuse.com/advice/how-to-get-experience-in-a-new-field-without-starting-at-the-bottom.

[v] “5 Ways Professional Certifications  Can Make You More Successful,” MBO partners, last modified November 1, 2017, https://www.mbopartners.com/blog/how-manage-small-business/five-benefits-of-professional-certification/.

[vi] Larssen.

[vii] Doyle.