A recruiter recently contacted me about a marketing position. After describing the role, he told me the hiring executive’s ideal candidate would have experience working in three specific industries.
I looked up the hiring executive’s profile on LinkedIn and – surprise! – his background matched what he wanted from his ideal candidate.
I was reminded of the Seinfeld scene in which Jerry tells Kramer that he’s fallen in love with a woman who’s just like himself: “Now I know what I’ve been looking for all these years. Myself! I’ve been waiting for me to come along. And now I’ve swept myself off my feet!”
In the case of the hiring executive, looking for such a close match to his own background was a somewhat extreme case (perhaps driven by an insecurity that’s allayed by thinking, “I’m really good at my job; so for someone else to be good they need to be like me”) of what I see as an all-too-common mistake: filling positions with people of similar professional backgrounds.
It’s obviously very common to see job postings that ask for experience in the same industry as the given opening.
In my opinion, the value of this similar experience is greatly exaggerated.
In fact, in most cases it’d probably be better for hiring managers to look for intelligent and curious people from other industries. Every company is already filled with people who know its particular industry. What’s more valuable is adding outside perspectives.
Sure, new employees coming from different industries will take a little longer to get up to speed. However, in the case of intelligent hires, that’s only a short-term issue.
Medium- to long-term, the slower learning curve will likely be outweighed by the benefits of an outside perspective: asking different questions, generating different insights and adding new ideas.
Team leaders who want to foster innovation and creative problem solving should apply the lesson of America’s melting pot (that the convergence of people of many different backgrounds yields creative energy) not only to racial/ethnic/cultural diversity but also career-background diversity.
As for Jerry Seinfeld’s character, he learned the hard way. After getting engaged to Jeannie Steinman, he confessed to Kramer, “I think I may have made a big mistake… All of a sudden it hit me and I realized what the problem is… I can’t be with someone like me, I hate myself!”
For a laugh: I found the following video — someone stitched together the Jeannie Steinman story line and uploaded it to YouTube.
(I didn’t upload this video to YouTube. I’m pulling into the post a video somebody else uploaded. If the legal copyright holder has any concerns, please notify me using the Contact form found via the above header navigation).