Career Clinic: How do I change sector?

I am a programme manager in the health sector and I’m looking to expand my career and considering moving into financial services.


I am wondering if this is viable, or whether I should just stick to health and increase my expertise. What's the best way to break into a different sector?

Panellist biographies

Iain Smith quit his job at the Hay Group to found Diaz Research in 2001. At Hay, he was practice head of IT HR consulting, and manager of the Technology Media & Telecom (TMT) consulting team in the London. With a BSc in Applied Physics and an MSc (Econ) from the LSE, Iain has a solid quantitative background. But the less quantitative challenge of working out how best to get IT people and IT organizations to perform has, however, long been his big preoccupation.

Daniel Fox began his career as a broker for Tullet & Tokyo, followed by a stint as a football agent for First Artist for three years. In April 2003, he joined Project Partners as a researcher and progressed to become the top fee earner for the Hydrogen Group. Daniel now manages Project Partners contract teams across the UK and Europe.

John Callan was formerly head of IT at the bank of Scotland before its merger. He was in charge of IT services delivery for HBOS and learned how you run the tin and wire of IT as a utility. Now head of group application services at HBOS, he began life in IT as a Fortran coder for British Aerospace.

Iain Smith, Diaz Research:

The financial services sector much prefers to recruit its IT people from inside but will be much more open to the idea of an outsider if that outsider comes with sought-after specialist technical skills. If you were an experienced Sybase DBA, for example, you’d be in with a fighting chance in the City, from any starting point.

The programme manager label is however quite a variable one, so people might be unsure about how relevant you are to their vacancy. You might consider positioning yourself as an experienced project manager, not least because there are many more such jobs around. If you do this, and persist, and can interview well, I don’t see why you shouldn’t be able to make the jump. It may be easier to move into the insurance side of the sector than into the investment banking side.

The good news for everyone looking to change employers is that it has never been easier to research the opportunities, so take a weekend out to find out exactly who is looking for what in your area, and amend your approach appropriately

Daniel Fox, manager, Project Partners:

The financial services arena is large and competitive but not impossible to move into. However, it does mean that you have to position yourself in the best possible way, generating interest in your skills and background from the outset. Make sure you highlight your transferable skills and profile your strengths in programme management.

You could apply for a role below your current salary level as a necessary, short term tactic in order to gain experience. I would also recommend that you consider a contract as it is often easier to break into a new sector with relevant transferable skills when taking a 6 -12 month placement. This short term option will also enable you to decide if financial services are right for you.

Our experience has shown that the insurance and retail banking sectors are a good place to start within financial services, as they offer exposure to the financial services markets and provide great opportunities to develop the necessary skills.

John Callan, head of Group Application Services, HBOS

Programme management is a generic skill and there are plenty of PM's who have worked in multiple environments.

Moving from one industry to another is very viable as potential employers are looking for experience in programme management rather than the industry. There are occasional exceptions, depending on the programmes being recruited for, where specialist experience is sought. However if the right opportunity presents itself my advice is go for it!

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