Capitalize on Candidate Potential

As an executive recruiter, I meet with all kinds of exceptional professionals engaged in an active job search. Many of these are out of work or frustrated with their current job and know intuitively it’s time to start — or get serious about — the search process. Many of them are — or were — top performers at their companies, but have since fallen victim to working in an industry severely affected by the economy.

Industries that were hit hardest by the recession — auto, real estate, construction, to name a few — are slowly rebounding, but are far from the pre-recession levels. This leaves the professionals who worked in these industries in a tough position of continuing to hope that the recovery progresses or that they will find work in a healthier industry. These professionals are typically well-educated, have great references and are confident in their abilities, but they are also frustrated with what they view as the bureaucratic, close-minded mentality companies have about hiring from “outside” their industry.

As the hiring manager, it is your job to find a candidate who qualifies for the open position by having a current skill set, insight into the industry and years of experience to back up his or her claims of being the perfect professional for the job. Instead of just checking off the boxes for candidates who fill the requirement of industry experience, seek out the more talented candidates who possess the drive and determination to excel — those who are passionate with a willingness to go the extra mile.

Job seekers who have found themselves in a lurch after working in an unsuccessful industry are often more willing to put in the work to measure themselves against their competition.

Consider these two important areas of proficiency:

1. Work ethic. Two candidates are applying for a position in sales. Candidate A has years of experience in the particular industry you’re hiring for so he doesn’t prepare thoroughly for the interview and expects his résumé to do the heavy lifting. Candidate B has excelled as a salesperson, albeit in a different industry, and comes to the interview with hours of preparation on the company, its products, management team, financials and clientele.

Overall, Candidate B has put in more effort and shown more sincere enthusiasm and dedication to the success of your company than Candidate A — qualities that will naturally transfer into his or her workplace practices when hired.

2. They’ve successfully navigated their networks to get an interview with you. Many savvy candidates know that if they wish to change career paths, it’s best to tap into their networks and see who knows whom. Instead of letting their résumé perform for them, they’ve made the effort to personally reach out to their contacts and persist within a challenging job search. They’ve done their research and assessed commonalities to receive your coveted face time.

These candidates might come from a seemingly unrelated industry, but they are likely to make a strong case for themselves. Hear them out; you might be surprised at how they can take their previous or current job and use it as a springboard for maximizing their potential at your company.

At my firm, we have a term for stellar candidates who would be successful in multiple industries and companies. They’re called “best athletes.” These are individuals with intellectual horsepower, who are clear communicators who present themselves professionally, and who conduct thorough research to always be prepared for an important meeting or discussion. Recent hiring trends have prevented companies from meeting with these best athlete candidates since industry experience trumps raw talent, but it’s a shortsighted decision.

In your next hire, interview a slate of diverse candidates, some with relevant industry experience and some without the industry expertise but who can be described as a best athlete. It’s very likely the best athlete candidates will quickly make you forget about what they don’t know.