Unless you have personal connections that are willing to give you a chance at something where your skills might be distantly relevant […] most employers, especially large companies, want to hire someone who is already doing precisely what the job calls for. I’ve seen enormously talented senior people (and I don’t mean from Wall Street) unable to land jobs because employers write the job specifications so narrowly.
This is apropos of nothing in particular, but I spent a big chunk of my (previous) career being surprised about this precise thing: senior managers who are unwilling to hire, say, a salesman unless he’s worked in the exact industry he’ll be selling into; unwilling to hire an IT person unless she has experience with the precise software packages the company uses; unwilling to hire product managers unless their background includes products nearly identical to what the company currently sells.
Obviously, background matters. But you know what? If you hire talented people, they can learn a related industry, a new software package, or a different product set pretty quickly. And within a year they’ll be great. Hire people with precise skills but who are otherwise mediocre, and a year later they’ll be…..mediocre. I know which ones I’d choose.