Changing Career into the Space Sector
Want to use your existing skills from another sector to bring value to the space sector? By drawing upon the experiences of people who have achieved this career change, we provide some advice on how you can do this too.
The UK space sector is rapidly growing and needs people from all walks of life. People working in the sector love doing so. They’re excited about the work they do and can find purpose in it. The space community is full of interesting and lovely people. Moving into the sector can be challenging, but it is by no means impossible. You will have to dedicate a lot of time to it, but if you succeed we can guarantee it will be worth it. No matter your background and experience, you will have transferable skills from your current job that you can use to your advantage.
Outsiders to a field can often become the most valuable contributors as they are not constrained by tradition. The space industry is full of such “outsiders”. The industry is not limited to science and engineering but open to many relevant fields, including medicine, philosophy, ethics, legal, business, HR and statistics. Our job profiles give many examples of the varied roles available in the sector. You can also check our jobs board to discover the types of jobs employers are currently advertising.
The kind of path you need to follow to achieve the career you want in the sector will depend on your background and career aims. Generally, you might find that one of these two categories will best describe your current situation:
- You want to retrain for a new career, for example, as an engineer or scientist, or
- You want to find a job where you can use your existing skills to bring value to the industry.
Whichever category you find yourself in, the advice we provide in this article aims to cover the important steps that career changers can all benefit from. Are you ready to kickstart your journey to changing careers?
Change your mindset
The first step in deciding to change careers is having the confidence to take that first leap. It is commonly believed that careers in the space sector are all highly technical, science and engineering roles, meaning it can be daunting for someone looking to move into the sector. But the space sector needs just as many non-technical roles as other sectors, so there are roles for everyone in the sector. It may be a difficult task, but entirely achievable should you be willing to put the effort in.
Learn from people who have changed their career
Once you’ve changed your mindset and you’re set on changing your career, it can be difficult to know where to go from there. It’s a big decision and not one you’ll take lightly. There are numerous factors to consider such as the financial implications of leaving your current job, your family or other personal commitments, to name just a few. But it can be done!
When trying to obtain an entry-level position or re-entering education as a mature student you may, unfortunately, find that opportunities from companies and the language they use are currently more geared towards “young professionals”. And that can be difficult to deal with. We know it’s easier said than done but try not to let it dissuade you from applying for opportunities that interest you. Our aim with this article is to provide tips and advice about how you can begin to seek out those opportunities.
But don’t just take our word for it! One of the best ways to gain insight into changing your own career is to learn from people who have already been through it. That’s why we’ve put together a collection of interviews with people who have moved into the space sector from a variety of different backgrounds. Some of these professionals had previous jobs in fields such as finance and acting and have now gone on to roles in space agencies and science communication. You can learn all about our interviewees' career paths as they describe how they went about entering the sector. They also discuss the types of barriers they faced when doing so. You’ll find that there is no right or wrong path to follow. Your journey into the sector will be unique to you.
We will be posting interviews here periodically, and we have more interviews for this series already in the works. So, be sure to check back here and our What’s New page for any new updates.
Discover the career change pathways of our interviewees below:
At SpaceCareersUK we acknowledge the work we need to do in making our resources more inclusive, and we are aiming to improve the diversity in our series of interviews. Therefore, if you would like to share your career change pathway or would like to suggest someone for us to feature then please get in touch at [email protected]
Getting up to speed
You might be interested in a particular role or subject, but if you don't know how it works or any technical details you probably won't get very far. Space professionals often talk a completely different language and getting to grips with the basic concepts can go a long way. So, if you’re interested in the satellite industry, for example, make sure you know your LEO, SSA, CDR, etc, to get started. Look at job adverts and identify gaps in your understanding and skills. As an example, career changer Harriet Brettle, who is the Head of Business Analysis at Astroscale, after a career in banking, talks about how she took actions to address these gaps:
“I applied to grad school in the US where research experience is a must even though I had none! But, I identified this as a potential gap early on, reached out to my professors in my evening course, and asked for research experience. I started on a project that I was able to refer to in my application, and I was successful in receiving an offer for the PhD program.”
Leaving your current day job might not be practical at the beginning, which is where part-time classes and online courses can be particularly helpful. You can read into all of the options in our distance learning article, which includes information on free and fee-paying short courses, and further and higher education courses. However, if you’re more comfortable with learning in-person your local colleges or universities may offer part-time and/or evening classes. So, it’s a good idea to research all of your options to find out which best suits you.
There are also many online events, conferences and webinars that you can join which cover a range of topics and areas. You can keep up-to-date by visiting our events page where we advertise upcoming events; many are free and others require a fee. For example, The Open University Space Science Club, who are also the UKSEDS branch of the year 2021, run regular space-related talks and panel discussions which are free and open to everyone to attend online; you can sign up for their future talks here. SpaceCareersUK also runs its very own Careers Launch Online, a free webinar series with careers-related webinars. Episode 4 was our Career Change Panel Discussion where we had four panellists who talked all about their pathways to changing careers and gave lots of invaluable advice.
Proving your interest and knowledge
It’s important to show that you're keen and interested in the field that you want to work in, particularly for those who want to retrain into a specific role in the sector. Start to do things related to the job you're aiming for before. Write a computer programme for orbit design, attend a conference, write your own scientific paper based on existing data, design a space settlement in CAD, build a functioning model Mars rover. It's likely you don't know where to start - that's fine. Get a book, surf the web and start learning. Then, prove you understand it by doing a hobby project. But just making something isn't enough, you need to document your work to show you can learn, can use what you've learnt to achieve something, and most importantly, that you can communicate the outcomes. Write about your projects on a website along with your skills and interests. A recruiter might have a casual look at your website and see something they like. For the career changers who want to find a role using existing skills, learning about the sector is essential. It can help you to familiarise yourself with current goings-on in the industry.
Joining the space community
Joining non-profits, such as UKSEDS, The Planetary Society and the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC), the latter of which has an age limit of 18-35, are a great way to get your foot in the door at the early stages of your journey into the space sector. Volunteer however much time you feel comfortable with, but the more involved you get, the more chances you will get to make useful connections, learn about the sector, and raise your profile in the space community.
Advertise yourself with a personal website
Having a personal website can be useful. It’s your way to build your online image, stand out from the other candidates and be found more easily by recruiters. There’s no need to be a web developer, there are plenty of templates available, such as WordPress, and many are free. The great thing about a personal website is that you can put whatever you like on it and be creative - you’re not limited to a one or two page CV. However, there are some sections that you must have.
Firstly, include an ‘About Me’ page with a few sentences about yourself and your ambitions. Imagine you’re introducing yourself to a hiring manager. After that, you should have a page with your CV, but don’t just link to a paper copy of your CV, select the most relevant parts and put them on the website itself to make it look more professional. Leave out your contact details and instead put them on a specific ‘Contact Me’ page, using either a contact form or email address and your phone number. You might want to put specific days/times you are available for people to phone you.
Use a blog page to showcase your skills and strengths, demonstrating how your non-space experience is valuable and relevant to the space sector. Add client and colleague testimonials and portfolios and other work samples to give recruiters reasons to hire you. Posting about your experiences at events and conferences to prove your interest in the sector is also a good idea. You should also include any projects you’ve been working on and documenting. This is particularly beneficial for people who are retraining for a job in the sector as you can demonstrate to employers that you are capable and successful at leading and working on projects.
You can learn about career trajectories and connect with people on LinkedIn without even leaving your home. Be active by sharing and commenting on posts to get noticed by the space community and let them know you're looking for jobs. Also, search for recruiters for companies that you're interested in working for and message them to say you're interested.
Find people in your ideal role and look at their career path and the sort of skills and qualifications they have. There's no harm in sending them a quick message to ask if they'd be willing to answer any questions you have to find out what their job was/is really like and if they have any advice.
Careers fairs, conferences, and networking events
At these events, you can meet a large variety of organisations and make personal contacts that could help years down the line. Print business cards with a link to your personal website and ask about entry-level opportunities suited to your skills. The more events you attend and the more active you are on sites like Twitter and LinkedIn, the more you will raise your profile in the space community. Check out our networking article to learn more, and head on over to our dedicated guide to online networking and events to learn how to network in an online space.
Finding a job:
When trying to change career it can be hard to find entry-level roles that aren't aimed at students. But by seeing job applications as effectively a sales job where you are selling yourself, you can increase your chances of success. Business is largely done between people so reach out to as many people as you can. You can also check our jobs board for newly advertised roles.
Reach out to people
Having attended fairs, conferences, and other space sector events you’ll hopefully have a large network of people to reach out to when job hunting. Have you noticed a job advertised at a company that you know someone at? Reach out to your connection and they could help you in your application and could even get you an interview. Furthermore, often jobs exist but aren't advertised, so don't wait around for something to be advertised, reach out to people. Dr Shefali Sharma is a Senior Commercial Strategist at Oxford Space Systems and got a job by cold calling the CEO!
Internships are not just for students. They are a great way to try out a job and get some experience behind your back, and they are highly beneficial for getting into large space companies. Look at our jobs board, companies’ careers pages and ask your connections for opportunities. We recommend that you look for paid internships - these are the only type that we advertise on SpaceCareersUK.
Graduate training programmes
Graduate training programmes are also an option for those who are retraining to enter the sector and have recently graduated. These programmes tend to be offered by most large companies and involve structured training. For example, every year, ESA welcomes recent graduates with a master’s degree to apply for their Young Graduate Trainee (YGT) programme. It’s important to bear in mind that most of these opportunities aren’t just for “young people” but are early career opportunities. Try not to let anyone’s preconceived notions of what a graduate looks like put you off applying for these schemes.
The UK is home to a large number of excellent startups working in the space sector. Startups have good entry-level positions, and if you can show you can learn quickly and take the initiative, they may be more likely to take you in with less past experience. Small companies still have all sorts of technical and non-technical positions, and if you like you can use this experience as a stepping-stone to a larger company.
Alternatively, if you have an idea of your own or see a gap in the market then you could create your own space startup. Government agencies like Innovate UK, the UK Space Agency, and the Royal Academy of Engineering offer excellent support for entrepreneurs.
Applying for jobs:
Apply to as many jobs as you can and learn from your interactions with interviewers and recruiters. Don't wait for your dream role or a job at your favourite company to come up, and don't discount an employer because they're not a big name. Take any relevant job you can to get your foot in the door. Work hard and show you're motivated and use it to move towards the role you really want. Check out our Applying for Jobs article to learn more.
To prepare for job applications you should think about ways to link your experience outside of the space sector to the space sector. For example, Harriet Brettle used her background in finance to help her get onto a master’s course in planetary science:
“In my planetary science applications, I talked about the parallels between statistical models used in finance with those used to discover exoplanets.”
CVs, cover letters & interviews
Having a non-traditional CV with your unique background can be a good thing to show employers as it can help you stand out from the crowd. It is also important that you brush-up your CV to demonstrate how your skills are transferable to the role you want in the sector, or how you’ve retrained for a specific role. These types of skills are great points to write about in cover letters too as you can relate them to the skills needed for the role you’re applying for and how you’re suited to it. In the case of career changes, the key thing when applying to jobs is to focus more on your skills than qualifications.
For those who are retraining for the sector: On your CV and in interviews highlight skills that are transferable to any role. If the job asks for three years as a software engineer, do they really need that experience, or are they looking for someone with good programming skills? You can showcase your programming/coding experience that meets that need by doing online courses, linking to your GitHub account, or other classes/courses etc, or projects you've used these skills on.
For those who want to enter the sector using existing skills: On your CV and in interviews, map out your experience directly to what is required and show how you still tick the boxes. Highlight skills that directly map to the qualifications you don’t have. If you need to demonstrate research experience, Harriet Brettle notes how she used her experience to match entry requirements for her master’s course:
“I framed some of the finance analysis I'd done at the Bank as 'research' and showed I demonstrated the required skills that way.”
So just remember, “required” experience isn’t always required if you have the skills from elsewhere. If you can, it’s also a good idea to get people to check and give you feedback on your CV and cover letters, and to ask advice about preparing for interviews. Reach out to those people you’ve connected with through your networking and whom you have a good relationship with. You’ll find that these aspects will be different from what you’re used to, and so feedback can be a real benefit here.
Also, ask for feedback from interviewers from any unsuccessful applications as there’s always something you can learn for next time. You can check out our CV and cover letter writing guide and our Interview Tips and Tricks article for even more advice.
Best of luck with your journey to a career in the space sector!
SpaceCareersUK would like to thank Harriet Brettle for her advice and help in writing this article. Check out Harriet’s first interview with us here to find out more about her inspiring journey. We would also like to give a huge thank you to all of our interviewees for their contributions.