This month’s guest blogger is Tom Perich (MBA ’07) who recently navigated a tricky career transition switching industries.   

What prompted you to seek a job outside of the building products industry? And why pharma?

I enjoyed my time working in the building products industry. I had a steady progression of roles increasing in responsibility and impact for several companies in marketing and commercial leadership. I was in one of those roles deciding what I wanted to do next, and rather than look for another building products role, I wanted to take the time to dig deep and really think about my next step. I spent several days reviewing where I had worked and what I had accomplished in my career. I focused on times when I really enjoyed the day-to-day work while feeling confident that I was making a significant impact beyond the value that I was delivering to the company or my family.

This process helped me identify a number of things: I wanted to stay in commercial leadership. I wanted to work for a company focused on innovations with true global impact where I knew that people’s lives were improved by what I was doing. I have a passion for science and working in highly technical industries. I also had regional concerns — I live in the NE and have young children — so I didn’t want to move them unless it was for a unique opportunity. When I put it all together, the pharmaceutical or medical device industry became a top target.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced finding a job in a new industry? How did you overcome it?

I had no established network in my new target industry, but I was able to overcome this by leveraging the Darden Alumni network. I had a few friends from my class that were working in pharmaceutical firms, and I spoke with them about the industry. I then looked carefully through the Darden network for people who were working in the industry. I sent out networking e-mails and LinkedIn messages and heard back from several people. Those discussions helped me understand how to approach my search. After a great conversation with a Darden alum at Merck, I made the company my top target and began applying for open roles.

What tips do you have for others seeking to switch industries mid-career?

Switching industries mid-career is very challenging. Think long and hard about why you want to switch and why you think this new industry is going to meet your long-term goals better than your current industry. Your target companies will want to understand why you’re making the switch and ensure that you’re committed, so you’ll need to be able to articulate your motivations. Darden’s Alumni Career Services (ACS) coaches were very helpful as I thought through these issues, and they acted as a sounding board to make sure I was being honest with myself.

My second tip is to network with anyone you can. You don’t know this new industry and your existing networks are probably not going to be impactful in your new direction. You will need to talk to a lot of people to effectively target roles where your experience will translate — and to help you get your foot in the door. I found that networking with people in my target industry was the only way to really understand these challenges. This is where your Darden network and ACS can help. Some of the best networking that I did (outside my close circle of friends) was through the alumni network. Networking will also be critical once you get into the company, too, as you’re going to need to get up to speed quickly to be effective.

Develop a list of target companies that you would be excited to work for and focus on networking within those. This will ensure that you don’t feel overwhelmed in your search. It will also help you be excited to network so that your energy stays up. Networking is hard, but if every target opportunity is for a company that gets you excited, the e-mails and calls are a lot easier to make.

Finally, think expansively about the roles you will target. Depending on the industry, you might have a different function or title than in the past. My initial role at Merck is as a Scrum Master, which allows me to leverage Agile work experience I had at previous companies. Although that wasn’t my role in the previous industry, my exposure to that function meant I could quickly add value to Merck and begin to learn the company. Don’t be afraid to try something new in your new industry!

If you are thinking of making a career switch, consider meeting with a coach from Alumni Career Services.