This thing about industry experience

Recently I was fortunate to end my job hunt over the summer and find full time employment. A while back I wrote about my experience of my job hunt in the current market. I want to take a moment now and reflect on some key things which jumped out at me while carrying out the job hunt. I wrote my first set of insights in my post on Calling All Hands.

The most consistent and regular piece of feedback I got from potential recruiters was “we’re looking for people who have industry experience”. Quite possibly the single most unhelpful and belittling comment you could pass someone who hasn’t been successful. It doesn’t tell me anything about why I’ve not been successful in applying for the job other than I need to get experience in that industry if I want a role in the same.

These days a lot of what we do is often linked intrinsically to the industry we’re in. There’s context bend actions, behind decisions, behind success, and behind failure. That context is often the organisation we work for, and at a secondary level, the industry we’re working in. This is as far as I can take the industry relevant analogy.

The skills we have, the potential we have, the knowledge gained, the learning and development achieved, are all transferable. As adults we have the wit, intelligence and sense to know how to take what I know and apply it in a different setting. Insisting on industry experience is shooting yourself in the foot in the hunt for the best candidate.

If I’m not good enough because I lack certain skills, or have a poor CV, or have not shown how my skills match the role advertised, then given me that direct feedback. I’m an adult. I can take it.

Where organisations are convinced that only by hiring someone from their industry will they get the quality hire they’re searching for gets me awfully cynical. Part of me says “they already know who they want to hire, and this is just a compliance exercise”. Part of me says “they’re not interested in having fresh or different perspectives and will only reinforce behaviours they’re organisations are already exhibiting”. Part of me says “I couldn’t have delivered on my potential for them if they’re only looking for people who fit the mould”.

I’d like to think that in the 21st century, we’re able to be a lot more honest and direct with our candidates applying for roles.

The other piece of feedback I regularly received was “we’ve received applications from candidates who better match the criteria of the role”. Where that is useful for you to know, here’s what it tells me: you’re application was no good. As I’ve mentioned above, if you have a clear idea of what criteria you’re searching for, and I’m taking the time and effort to apply, it means I want to know how to make future applications more robust and help me get past the application stage.

I know there are considerations I’m just dismissing. There are a lot of people applying for a lot of jobs. Some jobs have thousands applying for them. Personal one to one feedback is a time burden and not an efficient way to work. Recruiters don’t want the possibility that an aggrieved candidate may make a high profile complaint against them as a result of feedback. Time may be a factor in finding the right candidate. There is a lot of practcial sense in hiring someone with industry experience as they are more likely to be productive sooner than candidates without. And many others I’m sure I haven’t mentioned.

I also know there are a good many organisations who don’t take the above stance, and will actually consider candidates from different industries and sectors. In either case, I don’t know who’s going to do better overall. But I do know that where candidates are given the chance to be involved in the hiring process, you’re only helping to get people back into the world of work.


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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

2 thoughts on “This thing about industry experience”

  1. The current culture in recruitment is lazy (easiest option, limiting communication because of volume); short termist (what’s the closest match to the spec, the quickest route to filling the role); lacking in innovation (Imma gonna take me a chance on this person) and collusive (this is what everyone else is doing so it’s OK). Oh, and don’t forget discriminatory. Before anyone in recruitment gets all prickly, the average look a CV gets is between 8-20 seconds right? So let’s invite unconscious bias in –

    That old adage ” if you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got” pops up here for me in relation to the industry experience bit.


    1. Meg, this comment is spot on and perfectly captures everything I’m trying to say.

      Sigh indeed.

      As I say, though, there are some good recruiters who go against this way of working. Thankfully.

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