Q: I am staying in my same job but will be working in a new industry. I'm completely unfamiliar with it; what steps can I take to get up to speed?
A: Be curious, open to new things, and focused in pursuing the information you need.
The inner game
While your actual position might be the same, you're going through a big change, which could have resulted from a variety of factors. And your feelings about the change likely will vary depending on the cause. For example, the loss of a client will leave different feelings than an increase in responsibilities based on excellent performance. So, how are you feeling? Excited? Apprehensive? Resentful? If you have any negatives (or concerns about change in general) holding you back from embracing this opportunity, take some time to acknowledge them and move forward.
How have you approached learning other new things? Use your learning style to help guide your direction. Your steps will differ depending on whether you prefer to read about new topics, go to workshops, talk with others, etc.
This industry is new to you — is it new to your company? If not, identify internal resources available to you.
The outer game
There are a lot of resources at your disposal. Even if you prefer more interactive learning, do some reading. If, say, you're moving from retail to the hotel business, learn about the industry from books, newsletters, hotel brand websites, or consultant reports. Then when you meet people in the industry, you can ask informed questions.
Trade associations are excellent ways to meet people. It can be as simple as Googling to find options. If you live in a major metropolitan area, you can find local associations or even MeetUps that focus on your new topic.
Build relationships with as many existing clients as you can. This is your chance to ask questions using the "newbie" pass. Remember, it's a sign of strength to know what you don't know. Start seeking connections with people in non-client companies, and use those conversations to understand their needs.
As you learn more about the industry, look back at your knowledge of other industries. Notice the similarities, and ways your existing knowledge can help inform your understanding. There also might be insights from other industries that you can bring forward to new or existing clients.
Organize the information you obtain so that you aren't just randomly acquiring information, and just as randomly forgetting it. Focus on basic topics, such as understanding the products/services, major players, typical sales cycle, recent innovations, and most troublesome business challenges. Document the information and highlight gaps so that you can get them filled.
Manage your attitude, too. Do a variety of activities, sandwiching those that are less pleasant between tasks you like. Remember to keep your life in balance; you don't need to become preoccupied with this learning — your brain will make connections while you're thinking about other things.
The last word
Enjoy the learning process and have confidence that your skills will carry you through.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan, at firstname.lastname@example.org.