Re-thinking diversity: 3 ways to make the right cross-industry hire


If you thought finding the right talent was hard now, I have some bad news. The global skills shortage could result in a talent deficit of 85.2 million workers by 2030. Increasingly, procuring the right talent will mean casting a much wider net – and that may mean shifting your focus away from industry expertise, and towards bringing in new perspectives from outside your industry.

The benefits of fresh perspectives

Countless studies prove diversity of thought is good for innovation, profitability, problem-solving and governance – and that goes beyond difference in gender, race or cultural background. If you have people in a room with the same experiences, you're more likely to encounter stagnant ideas. Because ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’ in our industry.

But with every industry facing the threat of disruption, ‘soft skills’ are becoming increasingly important. Today, customer experience trumps everything – so many organisations are looking at adjacent industries for their next hires. And empathy, critical thinking and creative problem-solving abilities can be found in any sector.

Customer insight and understanding may even be a more valuable skillset than industry expertise. We see this in the airline industry – once thought of as a logistics business, now a battle for customer loyalty. From energy providers to financial services firms, every organisation is fighting to retain customers – and that means they need professionals who can understand and speak to the customer and see new opportunities for innovation.

Cross-industry hiring is also increasingly imperative in countries with relatively small talent pools like Australia and New Zealand. And for large organisations that operate a portfolio of businesses or operate across vertical supply chains, leadership may need to come from outside the core business. Why should the next CEO of a retail chain have bricks-and-mortar retail background if that business now operates on customer experience and digital platforms? A leader from the tech industry could provide the much needed competitive advantage.

However, while most leaders are now acutely aware of the benefits of a diverse team, we see many struggle to make the call at the end of the recruitment process. Diverse hiring still carries some risks.

Failure to launch

We’re all familiar with the old proverb: time is money. The process of finding and hiring the right talent is already time-consuming. The idea it might take longer for a person from outside of the industry to get up to speed on the job will weigh heavily on hiring leads.

With shorter reporting cycles to boards and increased pressure on the leadership team to deliver, new hires are expected to hit the ground running and deliver quick wins. It may take someone unfamiliar with the industry slightly longer to start delivering real results.

But then again, it might not.

At Korn Ferry, we support hiring leads by assessing applicants for the competencies, traits and experience required to succeed at particular roles. It’s important to look for evidence of leadership, an ability to think outside the box, resilience and adaptability. In many cases, people with these traits will be just as likely to forge ahead as some who’s more familiar with your industry.

If you avoid the risk of diverse hiring by sticking to industry experience as a ‘must’, other high-stake risks to the business could arise. Here are three ways to overcome the potential risk, and open up to diverse thinking.

Involve your leadership team

When you include leaders in the recruitment process, you provide transparency about the value the candidate will bring – as well as any skill or knowledge gaps that may require additional support.

A future manager can then plan how to get the new hire to speed faster, and by setting clear expectations reduce the likelihood of frustration if results are not immediate. It will also take the pressure off the recruitment team by sharing the accountability for the decision.

Make the most of the recruitment process

During the recruitment process, assessments and interviews help provide a full picture of candidates, including their personality and how they might perform within your business. This can help you identify any gaps. Rather than seeing these as cause for concern, these are areas to be addressed through development.

This process will also give you the confidence to back your decision, and incorporate different initiatives as part of your new hire’s induction and personal development plan – further ensuring they have every chance of success.

Revisit the brief

Before you come to a final decision to hire a candidate from the same industry, it’s important to stop and revisit your brief. What are the objectives? Are we drifting away from the original brief? If so, why? What changed? Are concerns about the risk of a diverse hire creeping in?

Take time to reflect on the candidates you’ve interviewed and step back from the short-term pressures to look at the long-term goals and objectives. This will give you the confidence to make the right decision.

Hiring from outside your industry is an important step in building a more diverse workforce – and will position your organisation well in a world of disruption, skills shortages and fierce competition.

While the risk of bringing ‘outsiders’ on board is real, it may be easier to overcome than you might think. Through proper planning, setting realistic expectations and keeping your long-term goals in mind, you can also set your new hire up for success.