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Look somewhere else for talent

At a recent Cambridge Network event I had the pleasure of meeting Megan. Megan works for Innovia Technology, which helps large organisations like Shell, Nike and Proctor and Gamble come up with new product ideas.

According to Megan, these big organisations recognise that they can make incremental change on their own.  But in order to develop new products, ideas and approaches which will lead to large scale change in what they are doing, they sometimes bring in people like her - expertise from outside. 

So why do so many businesses have concerns about bringing in people from other industries and sectors to work directly for them, as often the best ideas come from cutting across disciplinary boundaries and looking at other fields.

A common frustration among job seekers is that they are ‘pigeon-holed' by what they have done or who they have worked for before and employers' resistance to take on people without direct experience in their sector.  If a candidate has been involved in new product development in say, the food industry, then what prevents these same skills being effectively applied in biotechnology?

Now I do recognise that recruitment is fraught with difficulties and most managers want their new recruits to demonstrate a proven track record in the relevant field so that they can hit the ground running.  A more creative approach is to look for transferable skills, potential, enthusiasm and attitude. 

I do wonder whether the odds of a successful recruitment, however you define it, are any different where instead of making a safe bet (is it really? You probably get more of the same!) you hire a candidate with experience from another sector.  The key things are:

  1. To ensure the interviewee demonstrates the skills and attributes you are looking for from their own experience,

  2. Keep an open mind when rating their responses, and

  3. Probe to assess whether the answers given addresses your concerns about their ability to apply their skills and experience in your context.

Apart from attitude which I consider to be THE key differentiator, they may bring with them experience, skills, ideas and creativity to make that quantum leap that your organisation strives for.  Finding new ideas is like prospecting for gold.  If you look in the same old places, you find empty veins.  Yet if you venture off the beaten track, you'll improve your chances of discovering new ideas.  I am curious as to why this is widely recognised in terms of product development, but much more rarely in relation to hiring people. Perhaps it just acknowledges the fact that we all have a tendency to recruit people like ourselves.

To quote Robert Wieder ‘Anyone can look for fashion in a boutique or history in a museum.  The creative explorer looks for history in a hardware store and fashion in an airport'.


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