Aligned Markets: The secret to successfully recruiting outside your sector

When it comes to hiring new talent, most employers look for candidates with experience and understanding of their sector. That makes sense. But what if we said that hiring someone from within your current sector won’t necessarily guarantee the best results?

In a period of uncertainty, the time is ripe for companies to drive innovation and diversity of perspective by having the courage and forethought to recruit outside their industries.


One company doing just that is Orsted, where Global Head of Talent, Nicholas Creswell explains: “Having transformed ourselves from an oil and gas firm to a renewable energy firm, we are having to challenge how we recruit. Now situated within a rapidly emerging industry, we are at the forefront of defining what the industry is about. As such, there isn’t much talent out there which already has the skills and experience which we need. Therefore, we need to think laterally and creatively.”

As more companies expect to take on new challenges and transformations similar to those Orsted has faced, the need to diversify expertise and skills greatens. But more than just bringing in new skills, the value can also be seen in bringing in what might have been historically regarded as ‘industry outsiders’ that in today’s world are more likely to think differently, question the status quo, and challenge processes in order to improve them.


This is what Chief Talent Officer at Stanley Black and Decker, Minh Hua, calls ‘cognitive diversity’. He added: “At Senior Board you want variety and functionality. For those within marketing, innovation or sales these are industry agnostic roles and roles that we would seek out cognitive diversity. At Stanley Black & Decker, we realised that bringing in those from outside of the industry can be beneficial to the team and company.”

For some roles, which require specialised knowledge and training, it has not always been suitable to bring in someone from outside the sector.

Read our blog "what is the difference between executive search and recruitment?"

However, a good search firm should be able to help identify the opportunities to diversify your talent experience in roles that are more likely to benefit from ‘outsider’ experience, such as commercial, operations, business development, finance, soft skills, and general counsel roles.

Nicholas went on to say that, “Three out of five of our executive committee come from wider industries and they’re very honest about their lack of industry knowledge but their experience elsewhere has helped us to grow and challenge our ways of thinking.”

That’s not to say candidates from outside the sector are limited to operational, back-office and executive-level roles. The need to achieve net-zero goals is leading to the development of new roles that will require outside sector experience and even completely new arms to business.

Speaking to Nicholas further he highlighted: “For us, the most helpful area when it comes to applying wider industry experience at senior level is in the Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC), a part of the organisation for which it is vital to bring in people who know how to operate within a global organisation. Constructing offshore wind farms, for example, requires a globally mobile workforce who are capable of going from one project to the next.”

In recent months, the pandemic has brought about an even more pressing need for recruitment from other sectors. Drops and surges in demand, combined with the need for new ways of working, have resulted in companies urgently needing to recruit those with outside sector experience.

At Stanley Black & Decker, Minh spoke to me about the need to rapidly adapt the company’s online service, “During Covid we had to quickly improve our ecommerce offering as we needed to deliver to customer’s homes. We brought in talent from outside of the industry and learnt a lot from them. Whilst this was a quick answer to the demands brought about by Covid, the world is changing and ecommerce within the manufacturing sector is increasing rapidly.”


Recruiting from aligned markets also widens the talent pool. Limiting candidates to specific sector experience means you are likely to exhaust search and employee referral programmes quickly. Looking at other industries gives you access to a far wider pool of potential candidates with transferrable skills that could be perfectly suited for an executive role.

This was echoed by Human Resources Director at utility firm, EDF, Philippa Burt who stated that “There is a lot more opportunity when it comes to seeking diverse talent. It’s about taking measured risks and pushing transferable skills which can be applied across various industries and roles. If you are a brilliant leader, and have the right team around you, you can probably lead without specific technical knowledge.”

By widening the candidate search, it can help companies create a more diverse workforce with flexible transferable skills. According to the latest Parker Review, 37% of companies in the FTSE 100 had no non-white board members, six of that 37% are from the industrial sector. However, by seeking talent in aligned markets, companies can look to introduce more diverse candidates to the executive level, which with support can foster a more inclusive culture.

The key to attracting the right talent from aligned markets is to get specific on your candidate briefs. At Granger Reis, we work with companies to understand and challenge their talent requirements to develop briefs. As specialists across a range of industries including real estate, infrastructure, natural resources, and manufacturing. When it comes to the recruitment process, we’re used to lateral thinking and we have a research and delivery team with a broad database that helps us identify and place candidates successfully from aligned sectors.

The pandemic forced many to consider hiring from other sectors sooner than they had planned to meet short-term needs. But this isn’t a short-term trend. To continue innovating and building resilience in the face of future crises, the industrial sector needs to diversify its talent pool. To do that, it needs to be open-minded to the opportunities and benefits that can come from hiring from other sectors, and interested about what these candidates can bring to the job.


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