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Ideas. Insights. Inspiration.

Unconventional Candidates

The best hire I ever made happened many years ago when I worked for a consumer-packaged-goods organization.

I had needed to replace a stellar member of my team who had recently been promoted, and an internal recruiter had been assigned to the search. After some time, the recruiter presented me with a shortlist of candidates, all of whom had extremely similar backgrounds.


After speaking with the recruiter, I learned this was the case because the search had been based on a list of requirements given to him the last time he had been asked to fill a role for our business unit... and that this list explicitly stated he was not to put forward any candidates who did not have any CPG-marketing experience.


I knew that was a mistake. Part of what I needed from this new hire was some radically different thinking to challenge my own ideas and assumptions when warranted... and it's really difficult to get radically different perspectives from people who are the same as you.


So I asked the recruiter to provide me with some additional resumes to review, only this time, I asked if he would ignore the previous "CPG-experience only" restriction.


He agreed to do as I asked. And the second batch of applicant resumes included one from a woman who had terrific work experience in technology, media, and toys... but no consumer packaged goods experience. I ended up hiring her after she impressed the hiring team throughout the interview process, and it turned out to be an excellent decision: she contributed a tremendous amount to the organization for many years before eventually leaving the company for a much more senior role.


I've seen many job descriptions list industry-specific experience as an absolute requirement.


That's a mistake.


Industry-specific experience can be significantly overrated because smart, motivated people are usually able to adapt to new environments.


In many cases, a talented candidate's skills are extremely transferable across industries: a great CPG marketer who truly understands the fundamentals of marketing won't have difficulty marketing entertainment, retail, or financial services, for example.


And most importantly, the fresh perspective "industry outsiders" bring to a business is worth ten times the investment of time and energy needed to bring them up-to-speed on industry-specific jargon and best practices.


The best recruiters and hiring managers are savvy enough to identify top talent outside of their own industries; they understand the transferability of key skills required to be successful in the role and differentiate between "nice to have" and "need to have" experience. And they're not afraid to look at unconventional candidates who express interest in a role.


Albert Einstein defined insanity as, "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."


Businesses who want to accelerate growth should keep that in mind when hiring.



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