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Getting A Job

October 20, 2011

There is an interesting discussion underway on the IACCM Forum.  It relates to relatively frequent question (and frustration) over the ability to move between industries.

We are often told that organizations should hire for skills, not knowledge. Indeed, one of the top issues raised by functional management is around the skills gap that they face. I hear relatively little about ‘the knowledge gap’. Is this because they see the two as interchangeable?

Based on the experience of many job applicants, specific industry knowledge and experience often seems to trump the value placed on demonstrated skills. There remains a tendency to hire people who fit our existing employee profile – even though we are at the same time saying that profile is not quite right for the future!

I understand that we are often hiring as a matter of urgency and want people who can ‘hit the ground running’. But firstly that assumes there is only one way of doing things and secondly it means we never start to address our more deep-seated problem, which is a lack of diversity and new ideas and knowledge.

So how do job applicants best oversome this narrow-minded approach to selecting interview candidates and hiring? I would love to hear your thoughts, either because you have succeeded in breaking down the barrier, or because you are a manager who deals with hiring.

And just a comment for those who are giving up hope. I managed to move from banking, to automotive, to aerospace, to technology. I recall overhearing my line manager the day I joined automotive saying to my supervisor ‘He comes from banking, I don’t know why they hired him, but we’ll find a way to move him on very soon’. Fortunately, he changed his mind. Now I must give some thought as to why that was, and maybe it will help me answer the question!

3 Comments
  1. Rakesh Edavalath permalink

    I have been working in contracts managemnt in oil & gas industry for the past 22 years. From my experience, even within oil & gas industry, people tend to ask for specific upstream and down stream experience!!

    I think it is hype and many times not having industry background is beneficial as the person can think without being influenced/biased by the existing customs. As you rightly pointed out, companies want new recruits to ‘hit the ground running’ and this results in sticking to the same industry many time resulting in mediocre employees joining.

    I think more than having industry experience, it is important to have commercial sense and the habit of understanding the industry you are in. I am sure if Tom did not understand the nuances of automotive industry, he would not have stayed there!

  2. Mark Hope permalink

    Intersting issue of which I have some experiences.

    I worked for BT undertaking commercial contracts work on the sales side, obviously in the telecommunications and IT markets, for approximately 18 years.

    In 2002, I embarked on a career as an Interim Manager and was faced with this exact same problem, as regards lack of product and services knowledge in other markets, and the additional problems of not having worked on the buy side nor in the public sector.

    Potential employers are concerned about the lack of product and services knowledge and lack of experience on the other side of the fence and the other sector, but tend to worry a lot less in the case of an interim as obviously if this proves a problem it is easy to get rid and start again.
    I have found work on both sides of the fence, in both the public and private sectors and dealing with very different non-telecommunications/IT products and services.

    As examples, I have worked for Local Authorities negotiating and producing contracts for construction and contracts for goods and services relating to building and facilities, housing, environmental, leisure, education, care and support; for a university executing goods and services contracts including education, student services, research, accreditation and collaboration, consultancy, building facilities, arts and leisure and for a huge global FMCG company on the procurement side.

    In short, my experiences have shown me that the key skills are very transferable. In my view, primarily because goods and services contracts are, well, goods and services contracts as managed and outsourcing contracts are managed and outsourcing contracts etc and the key principles and key elements of the contracts are very similar.

    As an aside, my observation, through my experiences as an interim, is that the interim market shatters many myths and removes many barriers compared with being a permanent employee.
    As an interim you tend to waltz in to a company with very little, if any, interviewing and (in the early days) are offered jobs doing things or working in areas where you lack experience and/or knowledge. I can only conclude that employers do this because ultimately the employer values and wants our key commercial contractual skills.

    I think the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I have succeeded on these diverse assignments wherever I have been and invariably have been asked to stay on, many times on a permanent basis.
    In my opinion, the other skills and knowledge required as regards products and services and organsiational structure, culture etc can be learnt in the same way that they are by new entrants. Additionally, as an Interim Manager, I make a conscious effort to develop this knowledge asap to increase my effectiveness.

    In conclusion, my view is that our value and USP lie in the key commercial contractual skills and if you are strong in these then your skills are very transferable and any lack of products and services knowledge or any similar aspect are secondary.

  3. Anil Varna permalink

    The way of doing business is changing with advent of technology. Similarly, on account of telecom revolution, the businesses are becoming global in nature with footprints in various countries with diverse culture. Therefore, it will be difficult to get the right kind of person with matching experience. What is more important is the attitude to learn new things which will reinforce the skill sets and apply them to realistic situations. Employer should search for such candidates who can think beyond the usual sorts and always worked on new challanges rather than looking for someone who had been doing the same thing again and again over the years.

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