Business Forum: How can I land a new role outside of engineering?

Nov. 12, 2012
I am having a hard time landing a job in marketing and sales after working for a number of years as a laser research engineer. What would you recommend?
1304qa Chang New

Q: I am having a hard time landing a job in marketing and sales after working for a number of years as a laser research engineer. What would you recommend?

A: I am surprised because most tech companies would hire engineers to handle their customer interactions. I will generalize your question to address career change to make my column more interesting and useful.

You have to go where the jobs are. So broaden the search geographically and also take this opportunity to reinvent yourself. Consider the kind of job you would like and ways to optimize your future. You have many industries to choose from because, as they say, "photonics is enabling." And it is not difficult for a technical person trained in one field to learn enough to adequately handle marketing and sale activities in any industry.

You have to be proactive; nothing happens without a good reason. It goes without saying that you have to be well prepared in order to improve the likelihood that you will get hired. Think about how far you want to go to optimize. Plan strategically and prepare well ahead of making the move as I have implied in the last paragraph.

First, define your goals clearly. For example, you need to understand that marketing and sales are actually different functions. If I were hiring a salesperson, I would look for an extrovert and focus on pleasant personality, helpful attitude, and the abilities to communicate and develop rapport instantaneously with anyone. For marketing, the candidate could be an introvert but must have specific skills and knowledge along the lines of branding, market research, promotion, distribution channels, and definitely some formal training in marketing. What I am saying is you have to determine your strengths and weaknesses relative to the job requirements in order to position yourself optimally. In your case, you also have to figure out where your point of entry might be since you are looking to travel another career track.

If you think strategically you may be more inclined to accept an entry-level position; you may have to do this in order to get your foot in the door. And you can also initiate the process by first taking an applications engineer position. If your goal is to land in marketing, then you will want to at least read a book and attend seminars on marketing, or even take some night classes on marketing. Doing so could bolster you with the knowledge to succeed on the job, and also sends a clear signal to the hiring manager that you are a thoughtful and goal-oriented go-getter-qualifications the hiring person would be looking for in a marketing specialist, especially one without previous marketing experience.

Being professional and appropriate is also important. So prepare for the interview well. Show you want the job enough to know something about the company and be ready to correlate the job requirements with your strengths. You also have to look the part. It is unlikely a person would get hired showing up for an interview poorly groomed and unprepared even if that person has a glowing resume. Organize a list of references. These are individuals you worked for or who have high standing in the community and know you well. Remind them of your strengths, how you interact with colleagues, and how you successfully interacted with customers even though these were technical assignments.

A parting thought: I recommend that you consider the field of healthcare because there is an ongoing revolution toward personalized medicine, which is going to provide growth opportunities that could last more than a lifetime. This is an area where photonics is used extensively; besides, health is a basic human need that is not going to go away. For that field, you may want to take a class in biotech.

I wish you success!

About the Author

Milton Chang

MILTON CHANG of Incubic Management was president of Newport and New Focus. He is currently director of mBio Diagnostics and Aurrion; a trustee of Caltech; a member of the SEC Advisory Committee on Small and Emerging Companies; and serves on advisory boards and mentors entrepreneurs. Chang is a Fellow of IEEE, OSA, and LIA. Direct your business, management, and career questions to him at [email protected], and check out his book Toward Entrepreneurship at

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