A Case Against “Industry Experience Required”

As HR leaders, we’ve all seen the job postings for  where we know we would be a perfect fit for the job – except for when we come across that dreaded statement: Industry Experience Required  – or something similar.  Despite the fact that we meet the required education, years of HR experience, certification, etc., they won’t even look at our cover letter and resume because we never worked in their industry.

I once heard an executive proudly declare at a meeting that his organization’s industry is “all about the people” – as if other industries are not “all about the people.”  I know he’s very proud of what he does and the industry he has worked in his entire career.   So that’s all he knows.

Most recruiters and executives think their industry’s human resource requirements are so unique that only HR leaders with experience in their industry could understand.  They have a bias against candidates who don’t have experience in their industry. 

I get it.  They don’t know any better and it’s just easier for them.

Having been someone who has changed careers and industries, I can tell you from experience, how valuable it can be to bring a fresh and creative perspective to the table. 

Now before getting into my case against Industry Experience Required, I can’t stress strongly enough about how important it is for HR leaders to know their business – I even wrote a series of articles about it here.

Here are two points that support the case against “Industry Experience Required”:

First, bringing in an HR leader from a different industry gives the organization somebody with a fresh perspective, a new set of eyes that can see past the “this is the way we’ve always done it” mentality.  Being able to offer a different HCM perspective to the organization’s strategic planning will set the organization apart from its peers and may help establish it as the employer of choice in their industry.  One that is different and more creative than other employers.

I came from the stores organization of a major department store chain and routinely planned and executed major hiring blitzes every Fall for the Holiday Season for my store.   In my new role in the mining industry, I was able to use that expertise when it came time to hire and staff our new mine in less than a month and a half.

Second, people are people when it comes to dealing with the HR performance and conduct problems. It does not matter if they are a retail sales or support associate or a highly educated engineer or scientist.  They all have their “issues”.   I deal with nearly the exact same problems with highly educated engineers and scientists as I did with retail sales and support associates.  People are people. 

So, I’ve defined the issue and given two reasons why I think Industry Experience Required for HR leaders is ineffective.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue.

In future posts, I intend to explore how we can overcome this bias.

Developing the Strategy for Staffing a New Mine – Connect with the Communities

In the fall of 2012, I was ‘officially’ tasked with developing a strategy for recruiting and staffing our newly licensed uranium mine located in south central Wyoming.  When I say ‘officially’ I mean it was time to launch the strategy I had been developing and working on for several years.

I actually started developing the recruiting and hiring strategy a few years prior to my having to launch it.  We had been working on the permitting and licensing of the mine for several years but did not know exactly when we were going to receive the final set of permits that would allow us to start the construction and operation activities.  So with the luxury of time, I set out.

The first thing I did was make connections with people in the communities where our employee base would be located.  In this case, Rawlins, Bairoil, Wamsutter, Riverton, and Lander.  I focused most of my attention on Rawlins, Bairoil and Wamsutter because those communities are 45 to 15 minutes away from the mine site while Riverton and Lander are a little over an hour away.

I started the process of connecting with the economic development organizations in Rawlins by learning when they held their meetings and attended them.  I made sure I looked the part by arriving in Rawlins in the white company Ford F-150 with Wyoming plates (bad form showing up in Wyoming as a “greenie” with green Colorado plates!)  and wearing a company shirt and my Wranglers and roper boots.   The Rawlins community is a small Wyoming town with the majority of the population employed in the extractive industries and are predominately hard working blue collar.  It’s important to be deferential and try to fit in and not come off as a big shot big city type coming in to save them.

When attending these meetings, I simply introduced myself to everybody I could and explained who I was and what my company’s future hiring plans were.  This, of course, generated a very positive reaction leading the people I met to introduce me to other local influential officials.  I soon built up a solid network of influential people in Rawlins, Bairoil, and Wamsutter and kept in touch with them by sending them press releases of our progress, emailing them with company updates, and making presentations at city council and annual local “roundtable” meetings.

In addition to attending these meetings, I made a lot of phone calls and knocked on a lot of office doors.  This effort introduced me to a lot of people who would later help with my recruiting efforts and with gathering public support for the company.  I also made a lot of new friends.

I was able to build a level trust with the influencers in the communities.  This was important because they have lived through many “boom and bust” periods where companies swept in with big promises and swept out when things got tough, leaving the communities holding the bag for the infrastructure costs they incurred to accommodate the influx of employees.

Initially connecting with the communities established the critical foundation for the next steps in the strategy for staffing the mine.  Steps I will cover in a series of future posts.