Career Resurrection: How to Identify Top Candidates from Declining Fields

Postal service, data entry, textiles, semiconductors, journalism, farming—these are just a few of the occupational fields that are declining, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Whether it’s because of increased automation, offshore outsourcing or shifting consumer behaviors, many competent workers have found themselves in the unfortunate situation of being out of a job for reasons beyond their control. These candidates from declining fields could be untapped sources of talent for your organization. When reviewing applicants from declining fields, consider these factors.


Losing a job to a plant closure or outsourcing is a big blow. It’s normal for anyone to experience some anger or bitterness. Having to find a new career is scary, but being adaptable means converting challenges into opportunities.

When interviewing downsized candidates, listen closely to the story they tell. Be on the lookout for candidates who go into victim mode. For example, if a longtime factory worker whose plant closed tells you, “Well that’s just the way things are now. Everything’s made overseas. I’m the last of a dying breed,” they might be resistant to retraining and infuse your workplace with a negative attitude. A comment like “I liked what I did, but now it’s time for me to learn something new. The world is changing,” indicates a more positive outlook.


Many candidates who have been in a career for years don’t know exactly what they want to do next. Those with a positive outlook will embrace the opportunity to attempt something new and do something about it. They may enroll in local job training programs, volunteer or take community college classes. In the interview, look for evidence of effort in the direction of a new career.

If you’ve been overlooking candidates from declining fields in search of that perfect fit, but have noticed a significant number of applicants from one specific field, take a look at O*Net’s job summaries to look for transferrable skills. O*NET lists the tools and technology, knowledge, skills, abilities and work activities for each job, and could reveal hidden opportunities with candidates from other fields.

For example, the skills required by a farm worker include “active listening,” “critical thinking,” “complex problem solving” and “judgment and decision making.” Those skills combined with abilities that include “control precision,” “static strength” and “multi-limb coordination” suggest that a career in construction—for which the outlook is bright, according to O*NET—could be a good fit. All it takes is the candidate’s willingness to learn the tools and technology of a new trade.

In addition to evidence of enthusiasm, probe for how they learn. An interview question like, “Tell me about a time when you had to learn something new and you didn’t like it at first,” can give you an indication of how adaptable they are. While it’s very common to experience initial resistance to new processes and procedures, many people grow to like a new way of working once they get used to it.


Being the last person standing in a shrinking field could be interpreted as lack of ambition, but it could also be viewed as loyalty. Whether a candidate has been working in a dying field for five or 25 years, you’ll have evidence of their work history. Job-hopping is on the rise, so those who have managed to stay in one field show a dedication to work that is in increasingly short supply. Probe for information about their work history and the reasons behind previous job changes.

For some people, job stability is more important than career growth. For them, the right opportunity in a new field for which they have appropriate transferrable skills could be a stroke of luck. For you, it could result in one less position to fill two years down the road. And for those focused on career growth, the new opportunity could lead to a promotion two years from now and a new opening for you to fill.

Take a good look at those whose jobs been downsized, outsourced or made obsolete. Candidates who have a positive attitude, willingness to learn and a history of job loyalty could be your next star employees.

Over the next several months we’ll be sharing best learnings and best practices on how to adapt and thrive in this new era of changing careers.

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