“Industry Experience Required” Is a Mindset We Need to Get Out Of

“Industry experience required. Industry experience preferred.”

When I see these type of requirements listed in a job ad, they cause my eyes to glaze over.

I have had friends call and ask, “do you think I should apply if it says this?” My response is that clicking submit only takes a few seconds.

But maybe, there is a SMART recruiter out there who will ignore that ridiculous screening requirement and will instead look for talented people from other industries.

A sign that you just don’t get the “talent thing”

In searching for talent, we all have our own view on how to evaluate. What I may see you may not see, and vice versa. And, I believe in the concept of leaving no stone unturned in the constant search for talented people.

However, when we put restrictions on who we are interested in, or will only look at someone who is or has been in a certain industry, we are showing just how we really do not get the talent thing.

Every time you allow your company to throw up that talent filter, you are saying that you are not innovative and that you simply do not want new ideas.

What data have you used to make the assumption that if you were in a certain industry you would be successful in this job? Can you prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the only people who will be successful in this role are people coming from there? If you have that metric and it works for you, so be it.

However, smart companies today should look for transferable skills and not get too concerned about the industry experience. That is so Recruiting 1.0.

Innovation comes from a new mindset

My background is publishing, media and the entertainment business. Today, my industry is military aircraft maintenance.

Now, tell me the connection between these industries. In the end, it is still HR and my skills are transferable. In fact, my successes in the U.S. were easily rolled over to the new culture.

My views on HR are probably 180 degrees different from the HR professional here in this country (Saudi Arabia). However, this company was smart enough to look outside of their industry for someone to lead the HR function, whether it was me or someone else.

This past week I came across an article at MAD [MediaPost Agency Daily], titled Agencies Need to Tap a Broader Talent Pool which was written by Will Campbell, CEO of Quantasy. His article spoke about the “seismic shift” the agency world has gone through. He went on to describe how successful firms are rethinking their approach to talent by “reimagining their positions.”

Using their non-conventional staffing model, Quantasy went outside of the industry and hired successful people who had NO previous ad agency experience — an award-winning music executive, a web entrepreneur, a screenwriter, and even a blogger, to work on their many projects.

If you are involved in HR, or for that matter are just interested in how to take your company to the “next level,” this article is a must read.

Article Continues Below

Changing the narrative of your personal brand

Talent is scarce today and it will continue getting scarcer. Just by opening up your talent requirements to various skills sets, and not just specific industry experience, expands an organization’s talent capabilities.

In a lot of cases, hiring managers are the hard liners when it comes to this outdated concept. They feel that the only ones that can do their business is someone who has already been in their business.

I worked for a lot of years in publishing, where editors had the strategic roles within. That may still be the case for some that are holding on, but the new big thing is to look past industry experience for digital professionals where ever they may be.

As a matter of fact, I often tell my former publishing colleagues to change the narrative of their personal brand from “publishing experience” and instead express a varied background with digital leading the charge and publishing coming up in the rear.

In our role of being innovative HR practitioners, this same concept can be applied to us in our own development. Are we only reading HR bloggers and HR websites? If so, you are caught up in a loop like the old vinyl records that keep skipping and repeating the same songs over and over again.

Going beyond our own sphere

Stretch your development by reading about other professions. I found this article about Quantasy because I’m a big fan of marketing and advertising periodicals, their blogs, etc. My reading list also includes articles from Psychology Today, CFO, CEO.com, CMO.com and Advertising Age, to name just a few.

I want to stay abreast of all the thinking within the organization, not just my own profession. I want to know what all the others are doing to deal with disruption in their respective professions.

Our thinking has to go beyond our own sphere. We can’t allow our organization to get stuck in the one-industy corral.

If we want to be the captain of our organization’s human capital, we to need to move beyond a locked-in mindset. We can’t afford to focus just on our own industry, whether it is hiring or our own self-development. Read about it from a different vantage point and you just may learn something and gain some new ideas.

Hire from a different vantage point and the sunrise of innovation just may come up over your horizon.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


40 Comments on ““Industry Experience Required” Is a Mindset We Need to Get Out Of

  1. Completely agree. If a candidate has transferable skills that can be applied without necessarily having “industry experience”, you’re missing an opportunity by not speaking with them

  2. I couldn’t agree more – it’s getting myopic Hiring Managers to think creatively that is often the roadblock.

  3. To quote Gary Hamel: “My fundamental belief is that if a company wants to see the future, 80 percent of what it is going to have to learn will be from outside its own industry”.

  4. We should look for passion, enthusiasm and a willingness to learn new things as the entry requirements for any role.

  5. Totally agree. Recruiters need to be risk takers by going out of their comfort zone and recruiting talent irrespective of their industry experience.

    1. In the end it’s not the Recruiter’s decision, but the Hiring Manager’s decision. They set the parameters for what is needed, the Recruiters use that to go find what they are looking for.

  6. Sorry; “Smart Recruiters” is an oxymoron in most cases. They basically do exactly what they are instructed to do as they are driven by their commission and the specific ‘industry experience’ is simply an emergency escape route should they want to overlook certain applicants.

    The author is correct…they collectively (their client companies included) should be looking for talent versus incredibly specific experience. Ability should trump what an applicant has already done. Intelligence should trump education and perhaps most importantly today, true diverse experience with bone fide accomplishments should trump age discrimination. Far too many corporations are ignoring the talent they desperately need in favor of less capability and a lower salary. Many more companies make the mistake of cutting heads only to overwork, burn out and waste talent and or foment mistakes, missed deadlines and critical opportunities. Short term thinking at its worst.

    1. Hmmm. I do have some problems with you first paragraph.
      We are a third party recruiting firm for high-level engineers (although we also do some junior or entry level positions if our clients request). You are correct in that we do as we are instructed, in that we always meet the minimum requirements that we are asked to with a candidate. A lot of times, this does include specific industry experience, as someone in the Environmental Engineering sector won’t know what is required in the Oil & Gas sector, but they are both mechanical engineers.
      If you are looking for specialized talent, then being specific isn’t a crime.
      For entry level positions, or more junior-intermediate positions have more free-range to ‘fudge’ the industry line.
      Also, as a recruiter, the last thing we do is look for an excuse to skip over a candidate. If a candidate applies and they are strong, but not particularly for that position, we go out of our way to try and match them with clients that are more suited for them. A lot of applicants only read a title of a job positing, and not the descriptions themselves, so you need to look beyond their application. A good recruiter/recruitment firm will do this.

      1. While I had no doubt someone in the industry would push back, I did qualify my opening remark by stating ‘most cases.’ Are there excellent recruiters / firms? Absolutely. However, today, with everything done electronically, it is far too easy to overlook great candidates as opposed to the face to face screening that once took place.

        Additionally, as you aptly point out, I freely acknowledge that there are certain professions that are not applicable when discussing transferable skills and, I concluded from the piece the author was not referring or giving any consideration to that type of scenario.

        Lastly, as an experienced executive and business consultant of over 3 decades, I have vast knowledge of recruiter practices spanning many industries. As one specific example, I offer the food and beverage industry. When a mid to high level professional manager with a significant record of achievement in specialty deli meats applies for a position with a company that requires or, only wants to interview someone with center of plate protein experience, that is ridiculous; but it happens everyday. So much so, it actually exposes the breadth of ignorance of the hiring manager. Naturally, that prejudice is transferred to the search work order. Appreciating that is only one limited example of the very many I can offer, I have confidence I have supplied the proper context for my original post.

        1. There are tools to help hiring managers screen applicants and look beyond the resume to see if a candidate has the “right stuff”. For many positions where specialized skills aren’t necessarily a requirement, candidate volume goes up and screening gets harder/time consuming. So while you’d love to spend time on each one, you need a way to quickly pull the candidates to the top of the pile based more on WHO they are more than what they’ve done. Check out ClearFit.

  7. In a market where industry barriers have collapsed and new competitors come from different industries we need
    To study and adapt Best Practicies from different industries
    Multi-industry talent able to compete in multiple industries
    Industry agnostic metrics and leading indicators to fend off current and future competitors
    Jorge Tabacman

  8. AntiSoros, is a man who has hit the nail square on the head. His comments are spot on.
    Company’s are in a mindset and stick to that, they overlook people who by definition do not have the qualifications or have not come from the same industry. I know this myself as it doesn’t matter that I can strip and rebuild an engine, it doesn’t matter that I can repair electronics to component level and it doesn’t matter that I can design and build a computers hardware and software requirements, I do not have certificates to say that I can. These are skills that I have built up through life and ideas that cannot be taught.
    Company’s always go for the safe option.

  9. Thanks for sharing this Donna! I will be forwarding it to an HR manager that I just interviewed with. At the end of the interview I asked..Is there any reason I would not be the top candidate for the position. He responded….Experience in the industry.

  10. This is a great article. I strongly believe requirements are something on a job posting that should be taken lightly. Employers are overlooking highly qualified employees for various positions because one of the requirements is to have a degree. There are so many employees in different industries who have worked in their fields and gained an astronomical amount of knowledge without a degree. Work life experience should really be taken into high consideration more than what it is.

  11. I completely agree, however, the mindset put forth in your article can be a very tough sell to more ‘old school’ Hiring Managers. My personal mindset is that I like to filter people ‘in’ rather than filter them ‘out’.

  12. The other one that goes along with this is the Entry Level position that requires x years of experience. But, when you apply with the experience, the response is that you are overqualified because they want entry level.
    At some point, the recruiters need to try to get the hiring managers to lighten up and be more specific with what they are looking for so the screening is more effective and accurate.

  13. Hi

    I certainly agree with the points raised in principle. Coming at it from a recruitment point of view, I find myself frustrated when hiring managers want a direct replacement (usually from a competitor). However if I step into their shoes, particularly in the sector I work in where margins are low and time is short, the time that would be needed to train someone up from scratch is a luxury that cannot be afforded.

    I also think you can split skills into 2 areas. Hard skills (e.g. technical and engineering) tend not to be transferable, whereas “soft skills” (e.g. HR, Sales etc) are much more transferable across horizontal markets and we find clients being more open to this (providing we can give evidence of their suitability against the job requirements).

    In our particular sector, we are warning against an ever narrowing talent funnel as people move around between a few key players in the industry. I fear that things will only change when we reach the end of it and have no choice but to change.


  14. They have a saying in sports “If you’re good enough, you’re old enough”. Too many times people get bogged down with the unimportant facets of talent rather than what fits the organization best. Could be an ego problem (Most likely is), could be a misunderstanding; I think we ought to use more common sense.

  15. Although,what you say is true,it is generally not followed by recruiters or employers.I have been both a job seeker and hiring manager ,and an owner,at various times.I see little change

  16. Excellent advice, organizations must create new metrics. The new metrics for “talented” human capital relies on skillset, previous all around experience, work ethic, loyalty, passion, motivation, willingness to learn relatable skills, and most importantly maturity. HRIS programs should not eliminate potential great candidates,based on on one or two requirements. Those excluded may prove to be most valuable. Unfortunately, the human aspect of screening benefits (hand delivered resumes…) have been forgotten.

  17. As a professional trying to change careers, I am so happy to read this. I just wish more people understood this concept! Just because I haven’t had a job with the same job title as the one you’re hiring for, in the same industry, that doesn’t mean I’m not capable of doing the job.

  18. Excellent article. Thank you Ron. I discussed this same topic while being trained as a chair panelist and the answer was “The system is not perfect but is the best we have at the moment” I wonder why the reluctance to change, improve and fine tune our society in every outdated aspect and systems that we have and utilize. I am living now in my tenth country and every time I have moved I have had to learn new language, culture, etc. but above all adapt, be flexible, open to learn and acquire new skills, open to new opportunities and fields, constantly learning and studying in the process. Unfortunately most computerized systems or rigid square processes at every level in the HR industry for the most part overlooks the pluses of the skills acquired by being a global citizen and tosses automatically applications out without looking at the person, the individual its positive attributes and personality traits. (Skills can always be learned). Never mind making it to an interview. In our profit pressing modern world, most major corporations and HR agencies will not take a second to look at an application who does not have the tick or key word (meaning relevant industry experience) and consequently miss out on talented people from a different field but with much more talent and compatibility by experience and wisdom acquired in the other 90% of the qualities more important when looking at a long term investment and new employee.

  19. We constantly hear that there are “millions” of unfilled jobs available. Yet, in the present employment situation these jobs go unfilled, why? It is perhaps because the employer is looking for a “manufactured part” as opposed to talent.

    If you can’t find exactly what you want in this environment it is perhaps because it does not exist. If you need to fill the position then why not develop the resource as opposed to trying to find it by blanketing job boards looking for unicorns?

  20. Ron, I’m going to have to partially disagree because your perspective is narrow and you’re making a blanket statement. I have numerous counter examples from my Recruiting experience. While I do agree that the phrase, “Industry Experience Required” is overused, sometimes it actually is necessary! An example, recruiting for an industry leader in the IT Consulting industry for a role with big clients in the financial services industry or oil & gas industry, deep industry expertise is required to foresee issues and understand how the IT systems can be integrated together in that environment. The client pays for that high level of expertise, so we need someone that can hit the ground running, without needing time to “figure it out” and make costly mistakes when a client expects perfection.

    Companies with strong brand names can afford to be “picky” and only hire the best top-performing candidates on the market to avoid risk of a bad hire. Any role requiring subject matter expertise is ALWAYS going to need someone well-versed in that particular industry. Many times, that exact requirement for industry experience is insisted upon by the hiring manager because they’ve already had a bad experience hiring someone from outside their industry.

    Another example is sales positions; the industry contacts that a person has built over the years can add a lot of value in securing deals. Sales is a VERY transferable skill, but many industries or roles with long sales cycles may be more relationship-based, so prior industry sales experience may be crucial for a new product launch.

    The job market is an employers’ market right now, and ever since 2008, so until employers are desperate for talent, their standards will continue to remain high. Simple economics of supply and demand.

  21. I wish it was the case. I’ve been trying to get an industry job, and gave up eventually… took a postdoc instead. Even entry level positions had “6 months of experience required” added to them.

  22. I was turned down once a long time ago because I didn’t know what one sheets were. When I realized after the interview that it was just a sales sheet, I kicked myself. Many industries require very specific experience because they don’t have time to train for anything. You are expected to sit down and do the job you were hired for on the day you start. If they think you are not “getting” it the first day or week in, most likely you will be let go. Plus, It is their way of screening from a large pool. Sometimes it can even be a case of semantics that roots you out of the pool. There was a time when people took the time to train and help people get up to speed, but I don’t think that is the case anymore. Everything is just too fast now.

  23. Halllelujah! What an intelligent article. Add to these words of wisdom the removal of age and gender bias and you have the possibility of hiring people who are right for the job not just “they fit the client’s criteria”. I have been helping a senior IT executive find a new assignment and I am sick to death of dealing with agencies who cannot see past the end of their nose, hire young guns who wouldn’t know talent if they fell over it and think everyone over 40 might as well curl up their toes now! Smart people pick up new skills quickly whatever their background and companies need to realise this and use the rich and diverse pool of people out there who want to work for progressive forward thinking organisations.

  24. ‘If you always get what you always got, you will always get what you always got!’ – if, however, you want a leading edge, and you don’t currently have it, pure science tells us (thanks Einstein: ‘Doing the same thing the same way and expecting a different result…’) that you wont get it, unless you do something different.

    Since most corporations ‘want it now’ (because they didn’t see the dulling of the leading edge coming) and choose not to see the long term benefits of growing ‘something different’ from within (it *is* likely that your corporation already has ‘something different’ internally, but you are so focused on getting it elsewhere, that you aren’t aware of what you already have, or you panic about what you might lose in productivity or in your current talent pool, by taking your high performers away from their most mundane work to *shine* for you), most organisations tend to want to ‘buy it in’.

    Here is the paradox (see: Peacocks in the land of the penguins’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNeR4bBUj68): If we buy/recruit/contract ‘something different’ (to gain the edge that we dont have), it is human nature – AND a trait belonging especially to the unenlightened, ‘inhuman’ CEO – that we either get rid of ‘something different’ or try to make ‘something different’ into ‘something the same’ so it is more comfortable for us to deal with.

    There goes your competitive edge, that you spent so much to recruit, head-hunt, hire, contract or engage… and usually, they also leave with your organisational knowledge (which is a HIGHLY valued asset to your competitor in their recruitment strategy).


    1. Its not enough to do ‘something different’ and hire outside the industry;
    2. Once you get ‘something different’ you really have to cherish, *protect*, nurture and preserve it – if you chose not to spend the same effort and money on internal development to cherish, *protect*, nurture and preserve what you can grow (and get benefits-PLUS from that little tactic); and,
    3. Critically LOOK at what you do to new talent in your organisation – do you try your hardest to make them look, feel, behave and act like the rest of your culture, so making them as similar to what you already have as possible? You would be exceptional if you do not.

  25. I have developed and implemented successful integrated marketing plans for more than 40 companies across 18 different vertical industries. The transferable knowledge from one industry to another is invaluable. The need to develop positioning/branding, lead generation/demand creation, channel management and customer management using traditional, digital and social media is ubiquitous — regardless of industry.

  26. “My response is that clicking submit only takes a few seconds.” Very dangerous advice. Whilst I would support any applicant who makes a specific case to be considered for a role that is outside of their experience but based on a particular set of transferable skills, if you do that by “just hitting submit” then it damages your brand, at least in my opinion. We see many applicants using generic “I think you can see from my CV that I am a good fit for the role” type statements, even when their CV and the job requirements are chalk and cheese.

  27. Thank you for sharing your very insightful thinking. I believe you’re right on the money. The unfortunate fact is this type of forward thinking is lost in translation. Most organizations have yet to evolve their HR culture. I’m pleased that you’re out there.

  28. Mind blowing article. Definitely one needs to ponder on these issues when talent today has become scarce. Wish the entire HR fraternity start thinking in these lines. I remember when we were hiring for a building material industry for a mid level position. The HR was quite clear that they required the candidate from a related industry, but while we analysed the attrition levels for the same position, it was intriguing that people didn’t last more than a year in the organisation. We had to argue with the HR about this issue and finally he relented and started looking people outside the industry. The hiring process was complete and they hired a person from a durable industry. The guy had innovative ideas and he capitalised on his experience and did wonders in his new role. He is also comfortable in the industry and today he is one of the most successful candidates in the same organisation even after 2 years. The HR fraternity might argue that it might be a one off case but if you start looking in a broader perspective, it can work for any other industry too, provided you hire the right talent, who has loads of innovative ideas, enthusiastic to work in a different industry etc.

  29. Could not agree more. It’s been frustrating to be turned down or passed up due to no experience in a certain field. Recruiters and hiring managers need to open their minds to candidates with transferable skills and who have the talent to learn the neccesary skill sets for the position.

  30. I am completely agree with your view points sir..If at all the HR profession is not flexible up-to 180 degree we can’t pool out the potential and efficient talents in the organization…..if we are talking flexibility and globalization is spreading its impacts in the field of Hr..as hr professionals we should accept the reality and try to set new treads .

  31. 23 year old recruiters or people calling themselves ‘Talent Managers’. Pleeease! There’s your problem. Have never had need for one and I never will. With the vast amount of people with a lack of talent at my work, they don’t seem to have a problem finding the next job and earning extraordinary high incomes that would put the pretenders out there doing their MBA’s or commenting on Linkedin that they want a role on a ‘non-profit’ board to shame. I do feel sorry for the younger generation, what hope do they have.

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