I’ve spent a long time recruiting Reward specialists into roles ranging from junior/local to senior/global positions. While hugely diverse and multifaceted one consistent characteristic in the briefs has always been a requirement for “relevant industry experience”. In my experience candidates find this restriction highly frustrating, and clearly it substantially limits the talent pool available to the employer, but is there any sense to this approach?

If you accept that Reward is the practice of attraction, retention and motivation of individuals within the boundaries of employment law, then industry specific experience ought to have little relevance in determining suitability…but of course it’s more complex than that:

  • For a start, the environment has a significant roles to play. The motivational issues of a 2,000 employee distribution centre are not the same as a 2,000 employee pharmaceutical organisation; an effective incentive scheme for a call centre would have little impact in a hospital and; a reward manager looking after factory workers will be having different conversations compared to their counterparts in accountancy firms. So clearly hiring from outside of your industry could represent a gamble.
  • Equally the sense of this approach is often reinforced by the recruitment industry itself with many recruitment consultancies being structured on industry lines making it potentially awkward for candidates or clients to seek opportunity outside of their pre-determined industry groupings.
  • Another factor is the number of candidates in the current market make it understandable, if arguably unwise, to use industry alignment to reduce applicant numbers to something more manageable…but this is not a new trend, even pre-recession organisations still tended towards candidates from their competitors.
  • Finally, and perhaps most influentially, the old adage “you don’t get fired for hiring IBM” still has a large part to play in the decision not to buck the trend.

But are these candidates necessarily the best option? Surely they’re unlikely to come to the table with new ideas; haven’t most of them have been sat on round-tables sharing strategies and best practice with you for years already?

There must be benefit to bringing in different ways of thinking, some form of Darwinian policy development . As our retail banks are turning into technology businesses, as traditional retailers are becoming websites, and our dotcoms morph into complex logistics firms, it’s difficult to deny that some industry cross-pollination in the HR function is advisable and likely to have beneficial effects, not least the increased talent pool and associated speed and cost of recruitment.

So maybe it’s not such a gamble after all. In my view if a candidate is bright, ambitious and culturally a good fit, they can learn your industry’s idiosyncrasies and may well bring something unexpected, and highly valuable, to the table…evolution.

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