Why it's a good idea to hire from outside your industry

Hiring can be challenging. Especially if you’re a stickler for previous experience.

Opening your search to candidates with proven skills in a related industry can help you fill a vacancy. What’s more, it can also introduce new skills and perspectives to your workplace and boost your chances of finding a good cultural fit.

Here’s why looking for transferable skills rather than focusing on industry experience can be an effective hiring strategy.

Spotting 'soft' and transferable skills

People are open to switching industries: 38% of Kiwis say they would look to move into a different industry sector or type of role if they were to change jobs, according to research for SEEK.

Hiring from outside your industry is all about spotting transferable skills, which usually take the form of ‘soft’ skills, explains Paul Marshall, general manager at Drake Recruitment Services.

“Some of the most useful soft skills across different industries are communication, adaptability, the capacity to prioritise tasks and manage your time, having a strong work ethic, being able to work in a team and problem solving,” he says.

Take a candidate with experience in hospitality or retail looking to move into a corporate environment, for example. Marshall says skills like being able to communicate with people from all walks of life, seamlessly transitioning from working independently to working in a team, and fixing customer problems are “100% transferable”.

Soft skills can be so powerful that they even trump experience, he says. “You might be looking for someone with 10 years’ experience and a candidate has 5 years’ experience.

“If you look at their growth over the last 5 years – how they communicate within their team, their strong work ethic and how they adapt to change – and how they fit from a cultural standpoint, you might realise they’re better suited than the person with more experience.”

New perspectives and enthusiasm

One of the most compelling benefits of hiring from outside your industry is the opportunity to introduce new perspectives to your workplace.

“As well as another skillset, people can bring new ideas about how things may have been done differently where they’ve come from,” says Graham Wynn, founder and director of Superior People Recruitment. “They can also bring a contacts and potential new clients for you.”

And while someone from outside your industry will experience many things as new, that newness can in fact be a real positive.

“If someone has worked in the same industry for a while, they can become a bit blasé,” Wynn says. “But if you bring somebody in from another industry, they've normally got greater enthusiasm to learn and develop, and therefore you can potentially see growth in that person – far more sometimes than a person who's been doing the same job for several years.

“There's real benefit in hiring somebody who's got just enough of what you need and training the rest.”

Paying close attention to applications

Searching for transferable skills takes some attention. Instead of relying on automated application tracking systems, Wynn recommends going through resumés manually.

“It’s better to look at resumés more closely rather than relying on the automation to tell you which candidates are ideal for a job,” he says. “You’ll be able to see transferable skills that the automation may not have picked up.”

At the interview stage, taking the time to go through the job description and the candidate’s experience in detail helps to “extract the soft skills that are relevant for the job”, explains Marshall.

He recommends the SAO (situation, action, outcome) approach. “Put candidates in situations that you know they’ll be in as part of the role they're applying for and ask them to talk to a very similar situation, provide an action that they did and the outcome so you can see how their skills may transfer.”

It may seem daunting or even counterintuitive to consider hiring staff from another industry. But prioritising transferable skills can help you find the right person for the job – and sooner. With a little training on how your organisation works, your new hire will be up to speed in no time.

Independent research conducted by Nature of behalf of SEEK, interviewing 4000 Kiwis annually. Published February 2023.

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