Hired! Making the Industry Switch
Mid-career job seekers trying to break into a new industry often complain that it feels as if they’re fighting the momentum of their previous work history.
Ladders member Dan Rozelman was contending with three generations of family history when he switched industries, first shutting down his plumbing business to sell manufacturing equipment, then to manage a staff selling glass to window manufacturers.
“Sales was always my forte,” he said.
Through Ladders, Rozelman recently found and accepted a sales management job that moves him toward the career goal he set for himself, though in a part of the business much different from the one in which he started.
Rozelman, 33, started his post-college career with a two-year stint selling truck parts across most of the Midwest before coming home to start his own plumbing business in 1998. He specialized in new construction – installing the plumbing for all the houses in a new development or new commercial or residential buildings.
The jobs averaged around $150,000 but ranged as high as three quarters of a million. Business was good, but his goal was to build it to the point where he could work full time on the business rather than having to go out on the job sites himself.
“My great-grandfather, my grandfather, my father and two uncles were all plumbers, so I knew that world,” he said. “My grandfather and father worked hard every day. My dad still does. But we live in Cleveland, and let me tell you: New construction … putting the furnace in during January … is no fun.”
“I was doing a million a year in new construction running two crews,” Rozelman said. “I could have run 15 crews, but I couldn’t find the right people to oversee the work to the level it needed to be done, to the point that I could be in the office every day rather than supervising on the job site.”
The inability to scale finally frustrated Rozelman enough that he decided to get out of the plumbing business and focus on sales instead.
“Looking back, that was the best move I ever made, because the Cleveland housing market started to crash right after that,” Rozelman said. “A lot of the guys I knew are out of business; it’s possible I would have been, too.”
Taking an inventory of his own skills, Rozelman decided his nine years in the construction business had given him enough understanding and insight that he could operate in any business closely related to it.
“My strengths were in talking to contractors, owners of contracting companies, supply houses,” Rozelman said. “I knew the lingo; understood what was going on; I knew what the end users of the product had to deal with on a daily basis.
It took six months of research and applying to online job postings related to construction equipment and capital equipment, but he landed a job at a company selling manufacturing equipment to manufacturers of windows for residential buildings.
“I didn’t just apply to everything I saw. I mostly applied for things that looked right for me,” he said. “I got a lot of interviews and tried to make most of what I said specific to the type of sale and challenge I was applying for. I talked about how I would spec a job with the engineers, and sell the job and present it. I could say, ‘I know you’re selling to the end user, and in my position, I did this. This is what drives their decisions, and this is what their purchasing patterns are and how they work with engineers, and this is what they’re concerned about.'”
There was a certain amount of luck in landing the job, he admitted. But in 18 months he outstripped the expectations the company had set for him.
His territory covered 19 states, and the average sale was close to half a million dollars. Long-term capital equipment isn’t a high turnover business, though, so the customer he sold a welding or fitting machine to one year might not buy again for six years.
“There wasn’t a lot of opportunity for growth, was the big thing,” Rozelman said.
It took about another six months, this time using Ladders as his primary source of job postings, newsletters and advice on resume format, to find his current job as sales manager for Cleveland-based, which manufactures double-paned insulated glass for window manufacturers.
“I wasn’t looking for something too specific – an industry or business that was growing and had some opportunity to move up,” he said.
He relied only on online job ads and resumes sent by e-mail. When he got an interview, he relied on his knowledge of the construction business, sales practices from previous jobs and his ability to handle a negotiation to answer any questions.
“They did say, ‘What do you know about glass?'” Rozelman said. “I said, ‘If I can learn all the ins and outs of the capital equipment to make vinyl windows and break into some of the customers I broke into during that year and a half and get the letters of thanks I got from some of my customers on those complicated sales — no offense, but glass has got to be a breeze!'”
Rozelman supervises three other salespeople covering a territory about 300 miles in every direction from Cleveland, including parts of Indiana, Michigan, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York.
The money is better, the work is interesting, and there’s a growth path.
“The president and vice president are only going to be in the company another five years or so, and my boss, the vice president of sales, can probably step up to the vice president’s job, and I can move into his,” Rozelman said.
“Plus, they’re looking to do a major expansion into the East Coast, and I’d be responsible for helping to grow business and pull in the manufacturer’s reps on the East Coast,” Rozelman said. “It’s a good opportunity.”