How to Hire Outside of Your Industry

When they hear the term “diversity,” most people think of gender or race – an understandable tendency, given the importance of both elements. Meanwhile, concepts like diversity of experience and diversity of industry are largely forgotten. 

Companies often ignore the need to recruit individuals who might come in and change the way they operate simply because they want to preserve the status quo. But organizations cannot grow unless they bring in diverse viewpoints that promote innovation, bring in fresh perspectives, and improve decision-making. Business leaders must think differently about how they fill gaps in their companies, particularly because research from the ManpowerGroup suggests 45% of employers can’t find employees with the necessary skills. 

The world is always evolving, and a workforce that encompasses all aspects of diversity is what sets the most successful companies apart. 

Skills to pay the bills

When there’s an opening on a team, it’s common for most candidates to have the skills necessary for the job. If all things are equal, hiring managers default to whichever candidate has the most relevant industry knowledge and experience. After all, they might reason, that’s the kind of thing you simply can’t teach. 


It’s often more valuable to consider candidates who have innate and transferable skills learned over time, such as leadership, being an agent of change, having a passion for learning new things and being a quick learner. It’s relatively easy to teach a stellar candidate the industry knowledge he or she needs to function in a role. It’s far more challenging – and takes a lot longer – to bring someone on board who has industry experience but lacks the innate leadership skills necessary to drive change. 

People who are new to an industry aren’t as likely to feel constrained by the standard practices to which everyone else adheres. They’ll apply the lessons learned in their previous positions to their new sector, which can lead to surprising and impressive results. These candidates view everything from a fresh perspective and ask challenging questions to seek an understanding, which enables them to serve as catalysts for change. Industry disruption doesn’t often come from within — it comes from outsiders who see a new way of tackling longstanding problems. 

Granted, there are some potential downsides to hiring someone from a completely different industry. The learning curve can be longer, for instance. A smooth and well-planned onboarding process can overcome this hurdle, enabling new hires to make connections and soak up critical industry information. 

It can also be more challenging to maintain long-term engagement. Once the initial thrill and novelty of a new industry wear off, some individuals lose interest in learning or stop seeking out opportunities to apply their diverse experiences in different ways. 

It’s also quite possible that existing employees will resent outsiders coming in and saying they’re doing things wrong. Longtime employees may become more resistant to change, or they may shun newcomers and marginalize their ideas. It’s important that current team members understand newcomers are not threats and that change isn’t indicative of failure on anyone’s part. 


How to hire (successfully) outside your industry

Interested in going beyond your comfort zone and hiring people outside your industry? The following tips can get you started.

1. Plan ahead

Before you post a job opening, spend time to figure out what transferable skills or behavior-based competencies are most important in a candidate. Then, share those expectations with any stakeholders who may participate in the interview process. 

If you’re working with a panel to interview candidates, think of them as company ambassadors. Candidates who can identify with someone who’s already within the organization stand a much better chance of seeing themselves fitting in with the rest of the team. If one of your current employees took a similarly nontraditional path, try to get him or her involved in the interview process. 

It’s also a good idea to take steps to include diversity and inclusion initiatives as part of your company’s strategic plan. You can then refer back to these initiatives during the hiring process to underscore the importance of giving nontraditional candidates an opportunity. When inclusion and diversity are part of the fabric of your company, the entire organization shares a responsibility to adhere to those values. 

2. Be intentional

When seeking candidates, intentionally explore or recruit individuals who have expertise in the field but not in the same industry. If you’re seeking a finance professional and are in the automotive industry, for example, you might prioritize candidates who have the necessary finance skills but who lack industry experience. That might mean sharing a posting on a nontraditional industry job board or reaching out to connections in other sectors to seek recommendations. 

When it’s time to interview candidates, don’t assume that people won’t be a good fit if they don’t tick every last box on your list of required skills. A candidate who comes up short in some areas but who brings a needed outside perspective to your organization can still be a successful hire. If someone seems like a great cultural fit and has a history of overcoming knowledge or skill gaps, you might want to give him or her a chance. 

3. Create open dialogues

Whether we like it or not, we’re prone to snap judgments: One study suggests that impressions made during the interview’s first 10 seconds affect the entire outcome of that interaction. To overcome any inherent bias, frame open-ended interview questions to allow candidates the chance to discuss how they can apply their experiences in new or different ways. 

Instead of focusing on the results candidates achieved, ask them what steps they took along the way to elicit those results. Their responses will help you determine whether they were truly involved in the process or simply acted from the sidelines. Listen carefully when candidates respond to catch those transferable skills or abilities in action. You may learn something new, or the conversation may generate a new idea or concept you have not considered before. 

While your questions should be open-ended, the interview itself should be more structured. Research suggests that interviews lacking structure are far less reliable at predicting future job success. Craft a clear and logical framework for the interview process to ensure all candidates are operating on a level playing field, no matter their experience. 

A recipe for sustainable innovation 

To ensure diversity of thought within their organizations, leaders must be open to the change and growth that accompanies it. Smaller organizations where only one or two people perform key roles are more likely to hire the same kind of individuals to maintain some degree of continuity, but this can be a vicious cycle, and businesses that stick to the status quo will find it difficult to grow or expand beyond where they are today. 

Bringing in diverse perspectives can also be a huge benefit for workplace culture and engagement in the long run. By building relationships and working with those individuals who have different backgrounds and experiences, your entire team can learn new skills. This organic approach to ongoing engagement can ensure team members who have been around for a long time never feel tapped out or bored in their roles while ensuring your organization promotes innovation and fresh perspectives for years to come.


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