Hiring is probably the most difficult and unpleasant job every manager has to deal with. In addition to the time investment, there is always a bit of uncertainty if you have hired the right person. The tendency is to hire someone whose background overlays exactly with a job description you have, as it seems like this minimizes the risk of a poor hire. That thinking is foolhardy and not only doesn’t guarantee a successful hire, it creates group think which will cripple an organization.
For over twenty years I owned a recruiting firm. I measured my personal success on factors such as tenure of people I placed in companies, interview to hire ration, referrals, and a few others. For my clients the metric that mattered most was tenure. Within companies I worked with to make placements, people stayed an average of ten years. I’m not bragging here, I’m sharing this to make a point.
What did I do as a recruiter that influenced the tenure rate? It’s exactly the same as what I want leaders to consider when hiring talent. That is, don’t get stuck trying to hire someone who has the exact experience you want, whose resume is a mirror image of the job description from skills to experience to industry. Thinking that if you hire like this will result in a successful hire tells me you are insecure about your ability to evaluate talent or insecure about your ability to manage. It takes courage as a leader to hire someone who doesn’t have everything you want and who may come from a different industry.
Having worked with hundreds of companies over the years, I have worked with many different types of managers–those who are risk averse to those who would jump off a cliff without a parachute. One isn’t better than the other. What I have observed is that those who are risk averse tend to hire the same type of people over and over again. They look at a resume and search for specific words such as the same industry, technical competencies, years of experience, and use that to reassure themselves that this person will be a good fit. This is faulty thinking on many levels.
There needs to be a minimum level of experience that aligns with the needs of the organization. However, when hiring is limited to only those who have identical experience to existing team members, it limits the growth of a company. Fresh ideas only happen when someone can come in with a fresh set of eyes. If the only industry you have every worked in is accounting, you are limited in your ability to see other possibilities. Before you disagree, let me explain.
Let’s say you’ve been in the accounting world for ten years (not as an accountant but in some other role). Your view of the business world is through what you have learned in the accounting world. You speak to people who are in other accounting firms. You attend conferences with people from other accounting firms. Vendors you work with are often people who work specifically with accounting firms. Everything you know and see is related to accounting firms. You become myopic in your view of what’s possible and limited in your thinking because you do not know what’s outside of the accounting world. Worse yet, it becomes group think. Everything you hear makes sense to you because you are surrounded by people who think the same as you.
The problem with this scenario is we close ourselves off to thinking differently and considering other possibilities. And we close ourselves off because no one is bringing in any new ideas, so there is no reason to consider anything else. When this happens, organizations stagnate. You’ll hear phrases like “we’ve always done it this way” or “why change, this is working”. From here the next logical step in thinking is “let’s hire someone who thinks like us and looks like us”.
If you consider the skills you need, in most cases the industry they come from doesn’t matter. Consider the CEOs of large, successful companies. Indra Nooyi of Pepsico started her career at Johnson and Johnson. Yes, both Pepsico and Johnson and Johnson are manufacturing firms, but different industries. Robert Nardelli came from Home Depot and went to Chrysler. Frank Blake took Home Depot to new levels worked at General Electric and the U.S. Department of Energy before joining Home Depot. Alan Mulally, CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, went to Ford Motor Company and is credited with turning Ford around. Not only that, but Ford was the only car manufacturer who did not accept bailout funds from the government in the late 2000s recession. Leadership is leadership, regardless of the industry.
The same is true with other positions. You can have someone be a smashing success as an accountant in manufacturing and equally successful in a financial service firm. Or a software engineer for a publishing company can be successful at a manufacturing company. Industry does not matter. Technical competencies and the all-important interpersonal skills are what translates into a successful hire. There will always be a learning curve for any new hire, even if they come from the same industry. Why would you want to limit the upside potential of the company by only hiring people from the same industry that think the same way?
If you want new ideas to flow, you have to hire people who think differently than your current team. Someone who comes from a different industry can bring that new way of thinking to your organization. They ask questions, they question thinking, they suggest something new, and don’t get stuck in the group thinking mode. When you want to move your team, or your company, from the same old same old to what’s possible you have to hire outside your industry to get that fresh set of eyes and way of thinking. The choice is ultimately yours, and change brings discomfort at many levels. However, if you truly want to stay competitive and improve your market share, doing what you’ve always done won’t get you there.
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