It’s often politically unpopular and seemingly risky to hire for a key role outside of the boundaries of your firm’s industry. It also might be just the right thing to infuse your team or organization with fresh perspectives and new ideas.
I’m an unabashed fan of diversity in all forms and flavors, however, one that doesn’t get talked about or that is scoffed at is this issue of industry diversity.
Perhaps you’ve heard forms of these comments before … I certainly have:
What does she know about our business? She’s been peddling widgets and that’s not us!
Why would you hire him? It will take months for him to learn our business.
He must be crazy hiring her. She doesn’t have any experience in our business. This will be a disaster.
While there are most definitely situations where industry experience and knowing the players and landscape might be required, there are a great number of roles (marketing, customer service, some sales roles and even some technical positions) where hiring someone with a non-traditional industry background will strengthen the organizational gene pool.
Hiring industry clones facilitates recycling of like-kind competitive ideas. It helps you import your competitor’s bad habits and it breeds a bad case of industry myopia.
Given the pace of change and the fluidity of industry boundaries in today’s world, the last thing I want … or you should want is an organization staffed and led by people who understand yesterday’s industry rules and battles, when the real battle is out there, somewhere else.
5 Key Benefits from Hiring Outside Your Industry
- A natural defense against myopic thinking. Hiring outside the lines is a powerful aid to preventing the spread of myopic thinking. It’s a tonic for “we’ve always done it this way.”
- Challenges to the status quo. Hiring from outside your industry introduces fresh sets of eyes who will look at a situation and your firm’s approaches and who will naturally ask annoyingly valuable questions such as, “Why are we doing it this way?”
- Potential for creative approaches to problem solving. Introducing a fresh view tends to promote problem-solving that is more divergent than convergent, supporting innovation and change.
- More and fresh ideas on how to win. A broader base of experience to draw upon in generating ideas to serve customers and beat competitors.
- A broader, more diverse talent pool. Call me a fan of any approach to broadening the organizational talent pool.
Challenges in Hiring Outside the Lines
- Resistance. Expect resistance from the boss or less-than-enlightened recruiters and cynical team members. If the role you are hiring for truly doesn’t require specific industry expertise, be prepared to make the case for how the firm will benefit from a bit of industry diversity.
- Time demands for you. Expect to spend more time helping the new hire learn the ropes in your industry. If you’ve gone out on a limb to bring in someone with a less than conventional background, you’re on the hook to help that person ramp up as quickly as possible.
- The need to actually leverage the new resource. Don’t let the fresh perspectives languish and expire. Find as many opportunities as possible to let the new hire share ideas and perspectives on how their functional role or how key activities were handled in their prior life.
- A need to redouble your good leadership practices to ensure that you are monitoring, coaching and providing feedback on the hire’s on-boarding process and progress. Like any hiring situation, you want to recognize a mistake early and remedy it before it turns into a big problem.
A number of years ago, our senior HR executive went into an interview with a product management candidate of mine, after asking me, “What I was thinking?” Following the interview, his telling comment was, “I get it.”
Instead of seeing a traditional hire with industry experience on paper, he saw someone that seemed irrelevant for our cause. What he saw in person, was a super-intelligent, articulate professional who had context for the job. This individual would not have made it through a traditional recruiting process, which would have been a shame. She turned out to be a superstar.
Hiring outside the lines of your industry takes courage. It doesn’t always work ... but neither does every “safe” hire. You’ll have to stand up to the scrutiny of those used to seeing like-kind professionals. You’ll have more work to help someone understand and learn your business and industry. And when done right, you’ll have someone your competitor doesn’t have, offering new and different ideas that might just make their life miserable and yours much more successful.
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