Pigeonholing candidates and then trying to catch 'the one' - Seriously though, how essential is 'sector experience' in HR recruitment?

In a time of economic uncertainty and when budgets are tighter than ever, it is clear that many organisations look to ‘play it safe’ when it comes to hiring new talent. But why is ‘sector experience’ still seen as one of the most important over- arching requirements when it comes to selecting talent? 

This is when pigeonholing candidates into sectors, really does turn into a the ‘catch the pigeon’ and find the 'unicorn' scenario. Trying to find ‘the one’ that has it all.  

But what are the implications of not looking outside of your sector?  Is this leading to a missed opportunity? If you miss this, will your competitors be a bit more open-minded and get that much needed fresh pair of eyes, that you won’t? 

I network and meet with HR professionals daily (and I was one) and at my Corporate & Cocktails HR events this ‘sector experience’ requirement is all too common a topic of discussion.

We explore why it is important for hiring managers to keep an open mind, with a focus on Human Resources recruitment.

Why is sector experience so desirable?

We’ve all experienced it either as a recruiter or a candidate, where someone is rejected because they don’t have ‘sector specific’ experience (or enough of it). With sector experience, there comes some confidence and an innate belief that this person will ‘get it’, will get up to speed quicker and will start to add value quicker.  

As a Human Resources professional, it is often perceived that you will better understand the organisation’s challenges, the types of roles / occupations within the organisation and generally a sense of what motivates these people, how to engage them and also where to find them.

When it boils down to it, there is the assumption, that if you come from the same sector and have been successful, you will be able to ‘replicate’ that success within a new employer within that sector. But is this too simplistic a view? Is this enough?

 Do we want to replicate or innovate? 

In a competitive market and with the ever increasing ‘war for talent’, is replication enough? Will this make you different, are you a disruptor? Obviously, this depends on the company, specific roles and the different levels of contribution these roles have. Sometimes you can afford to just ‘play it safe’ and that’s fine and it works.

However, what are the dangers of applying this requirement to strategic and influencer type roles? Could this reduce innovation, could you be losing out on that person who can bring fresh ideas to your organisation and challenge the ‘norm’? Are you missing a trick?

There are thousands of great candidates that organisations could be missing out on due to the failure to limit or totally get rid of this requirement.

We are all guilty of carrying our own assumptions either from personal experience or by listening to others that certain sectors operate in a certain way and attract a certain kind of person and approach etc.

Many candidates actively look to gain experience in different sectors to enable them to grow, collect knowledge and acquire a more diverse experience, to become ‘well rounded’ which essentially, they could be bringing to your organisation.  Don’t we all want people who can adapt?

As the ‘sector experience’ requirement continues to become more prevalent, this could also lead to an apathy, where talented candidates just won’t bother to apply for roles outside their sector. Great talent just won’t be knocking at your door! And that’s a real shame. You may as well pull in the welcome mat, turn off your lights and shut the curtains!

From a recruiter point of view, I've often been successful against larger HR recruitment agencies who operate in a certain sector space (mainly media and creative). I know all they do is search their database for specific sector, salary etc.  It's lazy recruitment, and what a lot don't do is probe deeper and dig under this sector experience.  They are taught not to challenge, but to service.  They are targeted on CV to interview conversion, so are inclined to 'play it safe' when sending you candidates.  

Hence why companies come to me and say they have had unsuitable candidates (with the sector experience!). I can offer more in terms of understanding the wants and needs beneath this 'requirement'.  Having an HR background really does then come into it's own. Plus, having a great HR network, I know my candidates and their skills, approach etc, beyond the sector they have worked in. 

Please dip your toe (or just plunge yourself straight in head first and take a swim) outside your sector – You’ll be pleasantly surprised!

HR being all about people and engagement, it’s even more important that we encourage new ideas, fresh perspectives, as a fundamental ingredient of innovation and growth and that we champion diversity. 

Why would you not want a fresh approach, creativity, a different way of thinking as part of your people strategy?

Especially if someone has a plethora of sector experience, they are potentially more able to blend a mixture of different perspectives and skills, and dare I say it not ‘set in their ways’ (although that’s another assumption and a whole other article).

But don't shoot the messenger. We have to be sensible and grown up enough to know that businesses come to recruiters with specific requirements (as we charge a fee) and sometimes those requirements are justified, make sense and the reason they come to us to find that 'special' candidate.   

If you would like to discuss HR roles you are looking to fill in your organisation, please do get in touch with me. I believe I can offer you something very different.

Andy Selway MCIPD – Specialist HR Recruiter & Founder

www.selwaysearchhr.co.uk