The advantages of recruiting out of sector

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In two years time, who will be best placed?

At Barron Williams we see it time and time again. Excellent candidates are rejected on the basis they simply don’t have sector experience. 

Clients will tell us they’re looking for somebody that’ll hit the ground running, add value and deliver an immediate ROI. 

They want to see demonstration and understanding of their product/service, customer base and the nuances of their industry. 

True, sector experience is an excellent indicator, and an in sector candidate will require less time to get up to speed with the role. 

However, talent is talent, skills are transferable, and broader out of sector experience can be advantageous.

Take the recent appointment of Dame Sharon White at John Lewis, a true industry outsider, and a great example of recruiting out of sector. 

She’d never held a senior executive post in British retail, or in any other commercial business for that matter. Yet the career civil servant has been entrusted with steering one the country’s best-known retail chains through probably its greatest period of disruption.

Of course that appointment brings with it risk, and only time will tell if it was a good decision. 

However, at Barron Williams we admire the fact that John Lewis were brave enough to take it, in a sector that is notorious for ignoring out of sector talent.

Clearly they’ve seen in her the vision, leadership, drive and creativity needed to sail the partnership forward through choppy waters.

Is staying in sector playing it safe?

By only recruiting in sector, is your organisation impeding growth, development, inspiration and potential new opportunities? 

By ruling out those from outside your sector could you in fact be overlooking potential talent that could deliver a significantly greater ROI in the long run? 

Cross sector recruitment could bring a fresh perspective and boost innovation. 

It could potentially help your organisation broaden knowledge, expertise and outlook. 

Of course it is a risk, all recruitment decisions carry with them a degree of the unknown. 

But by not at least exploring the possibility of recruiting out of sector, could you be limiting the talent pool, and restricting the scope of skills on (or off) the market?

Recruiting out of sector has many advantages

One of the big advantages of recruiting out of sector is that you’re gaining a fresh pair of eyes, a new perspective. 

They’ll ask the questions that an industry veteran may be embarrassed, afraid or just not even think to ask. 

Is someone who’s performed a similar role in a direct, or even indirect competitor, as likely to question your current processes, decisions, methodology or strategies as readily as somebody completely new to the industry?

As senior executives we ultimately want to improve ourselves and our businesses. 

Would somebody from in sector, who already knows how things currently work, ask those awkward questions? 

Could somebody with that fresh perspective apply what they’ve honed in another industry, and apply it to your organisation? 

Is there the potential for new business opportunities as a result of that hire?

Would they take a look at problems from a new angle, see new opportunities and solutions, and provide you with a competitive advantage? 

I’d definitely want to at least consider and explore those things, wouldn’t you?

Rethink and reimagine what the role could be

In sector senior executives know the industry, and will transfer their knowledge from the previous role to the new.

Yes, that in itself could be highly beneficial. 

However, will they take the time to learn those little idiosyncratic differences between your organisation and their previous? 

Recruiting out of sector will challenge not only your organisation but you and the rest of the senior management team. 

You will have to ask and answer questions you may not have considered for many years, if at all. 

When you hire from outside your industry you get that diversity of potential new ideas.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying those without sector experience are better than those with. 

And I’m definitely not saying you should fill every vacant role with a person from outside your industry sector too. 

However, at Barron Williams we simply try to remain open to the possibility. 

When we start a recruitment process with you, we want to produce a list of the best available candidates. Period.

The right person for that role may not have worked in your industry sector before, and we would simply ask that you be open to the possibility. 

Something, fortunately for us, our clients are largely happy to do.

Short term win versus long term gains

You could argue that someone without sector experience will come into a new role with a greater desire to impress, applying greater due diligence to acquire the new skills and understanding necessary to succeed. 

Someone who has worked in-sector may be less motivated to challenge the industry landscape.

However, what is more important than that initial effort, is their potential to have a more long term impact on your business. 

Many of the challenges your organisation faces are shared by other sectors; similar processes, similar complexities etc. 

There are of course unique issues specifically applicable to your sector and organisation, but business is business and people are people. 

Those elements should ordinarily be transferrable from one sector to another.

Senior management skills are transferable 

There is often synergy across a multitude of diverse sectors too, its just sometimes we don’t see it on first look.

Take the financial sector as an example, we could argue that numbers are numbers. 

However, a CFO role in the Charity sector (on paper at least) generally requires a very different skillset to say that of a CFO in the Medical Devices sector. 

Maybe that would be too much of a leap for a candidate to take? 

But is their synergy with other ‘technical’ sectors? 

Moving from Ofcom to John Lewis at first glance seems like a leap too far. 

However, John Lewis is a business going through a period of tumultuous change in difficult economic times. 

Who better to take the reign’s than an economist who’s worked at the World Bank, British Embassy and in Tony Blair’s policy unit at No 10?

She was described by outgoing chairman Sir Charlie Mayfield in a recent Guardian article as “an inspirational leader with the personal and professional skills to ensure the partnership continues to innovate and change”.

John Lewis are hoping that she can take those skills and apply them to a company that’s seen profits plunge by 45% in recent years.

Similar processes and challenges often exist in other industries, a talented senior exec can easily transfer and apply.

At Barron Williams we understand hiring out of sector talent

As an outsider looking in, we recognise talent, and as an organisation we’ve successfully placed out of sector candidates in a number of senior executive roles. 

For me this approach works at the senior exec and C-suite level more than any other.

People have a number of years experience, across a number of roles, sectors and organisations, where leadership and vision is key to the brief. 

They’ve managed change, made strategic decisions, and motivated personnel to achieve their vision. 

Skills that are often rare in people but when you do find them, they are the people who can transfer from one sector to another with relative ease.

I also appreciate that this is a subject that will always provoke debate. 

Sometimes clients reasonably conclude that industry experience is a primary component of their recruitment strategy. 

Many times, I agree, 100%. 

However, I wouldn’t be fulfilling the brief if we didn’t have that honest conversation. To advise that sometimes it’s better to list sector experience as desirable, rather than essential. 

Be open

In sector candidates can impact in the short term, but taking a risk and hiring outside your sector could be a better long-term solution. 

For Barron Williams, we will always say to our clients that they should refrain from disregarding individuals based purely upon their relevant sector experience. 

Be open minded and base your hiring decision on the candidate who is the best long-term fit for the role and organisation.

If you work with us, we’ll want to have that conversation with you, and we work closely with our clients to develop a brief that delivers the right person for the role.

If you’re looking for your next role, then please feel free to Upload Your CV or Call Us for an exploratory conversation. If you’re looking for a senior executive for your organisation, please use our Client Upload Form or Call Us now.

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