Associate Principal, Advisory
5 Tips for Breaking Into AI
Principal AI Strategist. Director of AI Innovation. AI Data Curator.
Job postings seeking people with generative artificial-intelligence skills are exploding. Indeed, even as hiring slows and layoffs continue across industries and functions, firms can’t fill open AI positions fast enough. “Talent in this space is fielding a lot of calls from recruiters right now,” says Frances Weir, associate principal at Korn Ferry Advisory.
But you don’t need to be a data scientist or software developer to break into AI. Prompt engineers, one of the hottest jobs in AI, are experts in content rather than coding. Bradford Frank, a senior client partner in the Technology practice at Korn Ferry, notes that many digital leaders evolved into their roles by understanding the tools in a broader enterprise context. He says firms are in need of talented workers that understand or are willing to immerse themselves in “how AI works, where its impact will be felt, how it will be received by employees, and how that will change the culture.”
With that in mind, we asked our experts for advice on how people without AI experience can break into AI. Here’s what they said.
Build a foundation.
Though it seems scary, breaking into AI isn’t all that different than transitioning into any other field. Start by learning as much as you can, says Weir. There’s no shortage of online tutorials and beginner classes on the basic concepts of programming, coding, and language models. “You don’t need to become an expert coder, but a basic understanding of these skills can be immensely beneficial,” she says.
Tinker and experiment.
By now, everyone and their aunt has a ChatGPT-authored bio. But learning what kind of questions produce the best output is a key skill—for any function. That’s why online platforms like LinkedIn are filled with posts offering tips and strategies for optimization. Test them out by working on personal AI projects or contributing to open-source projects, says Weir, and build a portfolio to showcase your work. Go one step further by enrolling in AI-related boot camps or programs offering mentorship and hands-on projects.
Lean on what you know.
Whether you work in human resources, sales, or any other function, Frank says, the front end of AI transformation is wide open. An entire ecosystem of roles in management, communications, human resources, marketing, and more requires no AI expertise—and better yet, creates pathways to learning AI on the job. Strategic HR leaders, for example, will be needed to help firms restructure and define jobs within the context of AI and to communicate and manage changes with employees, he says. “Positions that interpret, implement, or manage change as a result of AI are critical,” says Frank.
Define a new path.
An entire new field of careers and job roles is already growing around AI. Prompt engineering is just one example. Chris Cantarella, global sector leader for the Software practice at Korn Ferry, says anyone can be a prompt engineer if they’re skilled in using data science to gain new business insights, innovations, and ideas around product development, marketing, customer experience, and more. As the use of AI expands, the door to jobs opens wider for specialists in ethics, sociology, philosophy, and other liberal-arts disciplines.
Have patience—and realistic expectations.
AI jobs are hot, for sure, but that doesn’t mean a six-figure salary is just an updated resume away. Employers still prize experience, along with a solid grounding in technology and mathematics. For many people, transitioning into the industry is going to take time. Experts advise thinking in terms of milestones— setting incremental goals for growing your knowledge, skills, and network over months, quarters, and years. Eventually, the role you want and the work you’ve done will converge in the AI job of your dreams.
For more expert career advice, connect with a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance.