How to get a non-tech job in tech

You don't have to be a tech worker to land a job in Silicon Valley — or anywhere in the tech industry....

Posted: Aug 2, 2018 6:30 AM
Updated: Aug 2, 2018 6:30 AM

You don't have to be a tech worker to land a job in Silicon Valley — or anywhere in the tech industry.

Around 43% of all open positions at tech companies are for non-tech roles, according to a June survey from Glassdoor.

"Tech companies are no longer a bunch of engineers in a startup," said Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist at Glassdoor. "As they mature, they have to do sales, marketing and strategy and manage intellectual property."

The most common non-tech roles listed on the job search website are account executive, project manager, sales representative and operations manager.

The tech industry is a coveted industry to work in, with high pay and competitive benefits.

"It's where all the growth is in the business world," said Marc Cenedella, CEO and founder of careers website Ladders. "New things are being invented in the tech industry every day and it is exciting, energizing and thrilling to be part of it."

But that doesn't mean it's a good fit for everyone. Working in the tech industry can be a hard transition for workers coming from more traditional industries, like finance and law.

"Tech is faster paced, at least at smaller companies, more focused on innovation, disruption and re-thinking," said Chamberlain. "While in more traditional industries, there is more emphasis on going slow and getting all the details right."

Get a sense of the culture

Before you start pursing a job at a company, research everything about it — its mission, values, culture and history.

"Interview a lot and see how those companies are and how they behave," recommended Cenedella. "If you find yourself put off in the interview process, it might not be the right place. If you find the informality, speed and shoot-from-the-hip unprofessional and juvenile, it's probably not a great fit for you."

Stand out from the pack

Once you've targeted certain companies that seem like a good fit for you, you need to get their attention.

Since you might not have the same kind of network in the industry that tech workers do, be proactive about establishing contacts.

Make connections in the industry through online networks, conferences and in-person networking events.

"If you see a job posting, go directly to the company and introduce yourself," said Roy Cohen, a career coach and author of "The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide."

Look the part

Before you go in for an interview, make sure you have a sense of the office dress code.

"If you show up in the [San Francisco] Bay area or Seattle wearing a full suit ... employers might worry you might not be comfortable working around engineers in T-shirts and sneakers," said Chamberlain.

But coming to a job interview wearing a T-shirt and sneakers might not be the right approach either. Try to strike a middle ground with an outfit that conveys a sense of professionalism without coming off as too stuffy.

Be a problem solver

Showing your ability to work independently and being open to solve problems in new and creative ways can help get your foot in the door.

"Try to position yourself as entrepreneurial and a problem solver that doesn't always need to be told what to do," said Chamberlain.

Connect the dots for potential employers on how your past experience sis relevant and valuable to them, Cohen said.

For example, he suggested marketing professionals provide a sense of clients they've worked with and successful proposals.

"Provide illustrations on your résumé that demonstrate not just your experience, but how good you are and the ability to transfer those skills to a tech environment."

Show you can pivot

Many tech companies take an all-hands-on-deck approach to getting stuff done.

"Employees at tech companies are often expected to roll up their sleeves to get everything done. They don't typically rely on consultants or have a big staff to do work for them," said Chamberlain.

Try to showcase your ability to be adaptable in the interview, and bring up specific examples from your work history.

"Tech companies tend to look for more flexible, resilient and more adaptable people," said Cenedella. "Whereas a company in an industry doing the same thing the same way are looking for someone who can learn the rules and then follow them."

Display some tech interest

No one is expecting an account executive to know how to code. But it helps to be able to display your interest in technology and using it to promote productivity.

For instance, maybe you introduced Slack to help with communication in your last job, or moved to the cloud.

"Tech companies want to hire people that show as circumstances change in business life that they are able to keep up and adapt," said Cenedella.

It's also helpful to highlight your data capabilities.

"Show evidence you can work with data in some way," advised Chamberlain. "Decision making at tech companies tends to be very data focused, especially when tracking performance and quantifying all their goals. Any evidence you can give that you have done that before will be very helpful."

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