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Hiring outside the industry


In many industries, there is a limited pool of sales and marketing talent and managers spare little effort to get the best people, preferable from competition. But, how do you know he is the best person? Having worked for the competition or knowing the industry does not guarantee a top performance in your company. In fact, the pool may be overfished and your catch a leftover. The alternative: hiring outside your industry.

Many hiring managers do not feel comfortable with employing candidates outside the industry. How can someone that does not know the customers, does not know the technology of products or the ‘trade’ be successful? How much attention and energy is needed to bring him up to speed? What would my boss think if it turns out to be a wrong hire?

Insider versus outsider

Conservative behaviour driven by fear of failure often leads hiring managers into employing yet another industry insider. The emphasis that is put on short learning curves, competitive insights, minimal management attention and the idea that an insider can provide a front seat at (new) customers, logically leads to an interview process and assessment of candidates, primarily focussing on relationships and knowledge rather than attitude, achievements and experience. Combine that with the denial that follows after the discovery of a hiring mistake, and you are looking at a cost, for example in terms of lost revenues, which can be multiples of the actual salary cost.

The above interview and assessment process of candidates does not work when hiring someone from outside the industry. And, because candidates are not assessed on their relationships and knowledge of the industry, they are much more assessed on the skills and traits that separates top performing sales and marketing professionals from average Joe. Moreover, they do not have the typical baggage, bias, opinions and views that come with hiring an insider and as they are not from the industry, they are double motivated and driven to proof that they can do the job. Although they have a longer learning curve, other treats can compensate for that.

What to focus on when hiring

In my career, I interviewed hundreds of candidates for junior to very senior positions, hired many people and had to let go of many people. Having had my fair share of wrong hires and evaluating those that had to go, changed over time not only my interview technique, but also how I assessed candidates, especially if they had very different backgrounds and career paths. In order of priority:
  1. Curiosity: Call it curiosity, interest or passion for the business. If this is lacking, for sure the person will not be a top performer. There are those that still can do a good performance, driven by incentives or needs, but top performers have a natural interest, curiosity and passion for what they do.
  2. Attitude: Besides a craving interest, it is crucial that the hire has the ‘right attitude’. What’s ‘right’ can be different for distinct jobs or industries. For sales and marketing you can look for ‘positivism’, ‘eagerness to learn’, and ‘drive’ or others. For some positions, you could choose not to look too much into attitude, especially if you are looking for very specific competencies. Note however, employees lacking the right attitude can become a liability over time.
  3. Results and achievements: Results and achievements are a testimony of what the candidate can do with his experience, education and relationships. It is important though to find out what the candidate actually achieved and especially how much of it can be contributed to their personal effort. Dive in the details using ‘how did’ questions.
  4. Experience: Experience is a pre-condition for getting results and achievements. Therefore, consider carefully the candidates that show a lot of experience but little results. In their defence, there may be good reasons, but once you start sensing a pattern, do not hire them. 
  5. Education and training: A minimum education level is a given and it is a prerequisite to gain experience. That is why it is not high on my priority list. Nevertheless, I do value education or experience in line with the job expectations. 
  6. Relationships: In many businesses, relationships do matter. It is impossible however in a few interviews to find out if these relationships are good or bad. As many times, I have seen it works out both ways. Candidates strong in point 1-4 will build very fast good relationships and that is what you want.
Add the first characters together and you get CAREER, a simple memory aid that helps during interviews to stay focussed on asking the right questions. In case of graduates or candidates that have little or no experience, focus more on CARE: curiosity, attitude, results in broadest sense and education. Everything being equal go for the insider. If not, go for the one with the passion, right attitude and achievements. Even, if it is an outsider.

Final words

Hiring someone outside the industry is a bold move for most hiring managers. In search for talent in sales and marketing, it is option to consider. Younger hiring managers may not have the experience yet, to assess candidates on curiosity, attitude and true achievements. In those cases, get a second opinion, preferable a more senior manager. To minimize risks and to shorten the learning curve, you can stay with candidates from closely related industries. The outsider may be you next top performing insider. 

Jack van Mook
© 2012 EnFeat 

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