Talent Acquisition

5 Steps to Recruiting an Outsider

“Let’s have a look outside our industry for a manager to fill this role,” is rarely greeted with enthusiasm. Staff in the department will sigh at the thought of training a complete outsider. HR will wince at working harder to define an alternative person-spec and new selection criteria.

Recruitment agency partners won’t be keen as their existing database is likely to come up empty. The organisation’s own senior management will groan, recognising the time it will take for an outsider to become fully productive. On the other hand, peer-level managers may be strangely keen if there’s political gain to be had, should the next incumbent spectacularly fail.

Looking outside the sector is likely to be perceived as a more work, higher risk, lower reward scenario, so why is it worth your time and reputation to even consider it? Sisyphus may have been recognised for his determination and persistence, but certainly not for delivering an effective result, and your recruitment mission will be no less onerous.

Your motivation

It’s worth it because the potential rewards for the organisation can be significant and careers can be constructed on the back of such things. Consider the current situation and overall performance of your organisation. Is it facing an exciting growth opportunity or, alternatively, is that the grim reaper polishing his scythe on a distant hill?

Perhaps the organisation simply thinks that everything is just peachy, as the sun shines and a warm breeze is gloriously filling the sails again this year. Complacency is rife, and it’s a killer. There’s an old, but very relevant, cliché – “if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.” That’s fine for today, but …

If there’s going to be a need for change in your industry at some point, why not embrace it now and buy a head start? Whether that change will be driven by opportunity, threat, performance, technology or legislation, the skills necessary to really nail a game-changing challenge may be rare or even unavailable within your own sector.

To be clear, we’re talking here about recruiting someone who probably doesn’t have any experience about your products, services, markets or possibly even technologies, but most definitely is competent to hold a similar role in their own industry or sector.

Stepping outside will widen the talent pool several orders of magnitude and potentially enable you to bring someone on board with new skills, fresh ideas, an absence of preconceptions and a different approach to problem solving. It’s highly likely that you’ll employ someone with boundless energy, unprecedented motivation and a relentless drive to succeed – after all, they’ll also be taking a substantial risk.

Walking the talk

Re-defining your requirements from scratch and venturing into the unknown isn’t straightforward and it’s all too easy to blunder out, see what trawls up and then pick the best from that bunch. The danger lies in convincing yourself you’ve found an ideal candidate, when in fact you’re still leaving a lot to random chance. Chance is a luxury you can’t afford, so follow a five step process to cut your risk of hiring a spectacular dud.

  1. Name the challenge. Presumably, in addition to the old role, something extra needs to be achieved, or else there’ll be a problem. What is it? Be highly specific in defining both the task and the expected outcome.
  2. Go loud. It’s essential to get wide internal agreement on the result that needs to be delivered and that bringing in an outsider is the best way to achieve it. You’re looking for buy-in to the idea that new challenges need a new approach.
  3. Stay generic. Bin the old person spec and re-define the generic skills and core competencies that the next role-holder will need to accomplish the new objective. Ignore ideas of industry-specific experience that you’d normally consider essential.
  4. Take aim. Pick the industries / sectors likely to have people with those same generic skills and competencies. Narrow the field so that your search and advertising efforts can be more effectively targeted.
  5. Choose wisely. Character and fit are more vital than ever to get right. You most definitely don’t want a maverick so look for process-driven people. Look for creative and open-minded candidates with a willingness to learn, not people with a dogmatic I-know-what-to-do attitude. The latter would be instantly fatal.

Together we stand …

You certainly are accepting more risk by following this route, but then the potential rewards are that much higher for everyone. The good news is that willing sector-jumpers are often driven people who enjoy the challenge of stepping into a new environment and proving they can still win, so that’ll make at least two of you with your backs to a burning bridge.

A newcomer will be keen to strengthen their reputation and certainly won’t want a tank-slapping failure on their CV, regardless of the cause. You need to ensure that your organisation gives them space to do the job their own way. If it doesn’t, your investment will be completely wasted, the nay-sayers will have been proved right, albeit for the wrong reasons, and you’ll be doomed to start pushing that colossal rock uphill again.

It’s time to roll your sleeves up, one way or the other.

About the author: Jon Gregory an experienced management consultant, re-organisation specialist and recruitment professional. He currently works with both organisations and individuals, helping to get the right people working effectively in the right jobs.. He’s also the editor of

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