I recently participated, as the Recruiting representative, on some Skype interviews of candidates for human resource positions for a large power utility company.

The candidates on the screen that day were deep and steeped in years of HR experience, but not at a power utility. They all came from disparate industries and businesses, but none of them ever had worked in energy!

At the debrief session, the Hiring Managers decried the lack of direct experience in the power industry and they criticized the Recruiting Department for presenting candidates without any relevant industry expertise — despite the fact they had pre-screened the resumes beforehand.

I politely disagreed and said that industry experience can be taught and learned by a smart and energetic new hire like the ones we just saw on the screen.

When you find yourself in the Industry Experience Trap

In fact, I said, give the new hire 30 to 45 days with key internal mentors within the organization as part of their 90+ days or six months of onboarding, and that smart, new hire will become proficient in the industry and its jargon, the industry structure, the competitors, industry trends, key industry associations and networks, etc., etc. etc.

What I was telling these hiring managers was that they had fallen into what I call the Industry Experience Trap.

My point was that you must truly examine what an HR professional does and THEN decide if direct industry experience is an absolute must have or simply something that is preferred or “nice to have.”

For example, based on the size of the firm, an HR professional will be involved in:

  • Recruiting;
  • Hiring;
  • Training;
  • Coaching;
  • Organization Development;
  • Communication;
  • Performance Management;
  • Policy recommendations;
  • Comp and Benefits;
  • Team Building;
  • Employee Relations;
  • Leadership;
  • Employer branding;
  • Onboarding;
  • Downsizing.

Ask yourself: Do any of the above areas require deep industry experience to be extremely effective? If you think they do, you’re probably caught in the Industry Experience Trap.

A new recruiting philosophy needs to emerge

Honestly, this kind of specific experience may be only true (in a limited way and not for long) when it comes to Recruiting or Comp & Benefits.

For Recruiting, it’s true in the sense of knowing key recruiting approaches and channels, key recruiting firms, and networks unique to the industry (which is all learnable over time, I might add).

And maybe it’s true for Comp & Benefits in the sense of specific industry pay structures and incentives, and, unique benefit schemes and offerings, which again, are all transferable knowledge and learnable over time by a smart new hire with “core skills” for the job if they get proper study and instruction.

In the increasing tight labor markets in 2018, external Recruiters and internal Corporate Hiring Managers will need to consider/recruit individuals from companies, industries and sectors outside of their niche and captive industries.

A so-called “new” recruiting philosophy or paradigm needs to emerge where we consider hiring smart people with skills that are transferrable — even if it is from another industry.

Transferable skills used to be a big thing – and still should be

Of course, this in fact would not be a “new” Recruiting philosophy/paradigm at all, but simply a return to how recruiting (and hiring) was practiced back during the dotcom boom when talent was tight and “transferable skills” became the big things recruiters were looking for.

We managed to avoid the Industry Experience Trap back then; if we want our recruiting paradigm to change, it’s time we looked back and remember why we did that — and why it worked.

Johnny Torrance-Nesbitt

John “Johnny” Torrance-Nesbitt is an award-winning Global Employer Branding & Global Talent Acquisition executive with 15 plus years in building/leading global and regional talent acquisition and employer branding functions at several global Fortune 500 companies. He is global working in Global Employer Branding and was an Employer Branding Director at Randstad and has been Director of Employment Branding & University Relations at Monsanto in St. Louis for over five-plus years where he won four consecutive “Rapid Recognition Awards” for superior achievements. Prior to that, he was at Lockheed (corporate hdqts) in Maryland as head office Corporate Staffing Supervisor & Senior Recruiter, and he built the global recruiting forUnext.com, an innovative Chicago start-up. Johnny was also nominated in 2018 by his former organizational behavior professor, Dave Ulrich, for the prestigious “Employer Brand Leader of the Year 2018 (Global Leader Category.)” and by others in 2019. He is also a volunteer appointed a judge for Employer Brand Management Awards and the Web Marketing Association and a writer. Mr. Nesbitt holds a Bachelors in Anthropology from Amherst with Dean’s List honors. While he lived in England, he engaged with the US Embassy there and has a citation from the U.S. Embassy in London for his assistance on “equal access for Americans to UK opportunities.” He obtained his MBA in Finance in 1988 (and a Fellowship Winner) and then worked 3 years in Corporate Finance for First Chicago Capital Markets, Inc. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnnyTorrNesbi, or connect with him on LinkedIn.