I often hear or read about how difficult it is for companies to attract, recruit and retain high quality HR professionals. The cause of this is often attributed to a hot market for HR professionals and insufficient size and depth of the talent pool. Yet it is the HR profession itself which often limits the talent pool from which it will consider recruiting an external HR professional into an organisation. Look at a sample of job advertisements for HR vacancies and it is astonishing how frequently industry specific experience is listed as a mandatory criterion for a role, often with a minimum number of years working in that industry also specified (e.g. at least 7 years experience in an operational Mining role).
By defining the selection criteria so tightly for HR roles the potential talent pool from which a candidate may be sourced is dramatically reduced. No wonder it is hard to attract high quality HR professionals to roles in your company – you are battling all your other industry competitors for a share of a small and relatively finite talent pool. The result is upward pressure on salaries for HR professionals within that industry and employers lamenting the quality and quantity of HR talent in their ranks.
So just how important is industry specific experience when seeking to recruit top HR talent into your organisation? Is it so vital that you would automatically rule out a large proportion of the top HR talent pool by specifying that candidates must have ‘x’ years of experience within your industry? Surely the most important attributes sought in a candidate for a HR role are their HR technical knowledge and skills, interpersonal skills, motivation, ability to adapt to new environments and an ability and desire to quickly learn.
A highly talented HR professional will have the ability and desire to experience, learn about and successfully operate in a new industry. Such a move brings the dual benefit of reinvigorating the HR professional’s career by moving to a new environment but will also benefit the new employer as the person will bring to the table fresh ideas and perspectives that may not be generated when recruiting solely from within the same industry.
There are two critical factors for a HR professional to successfully enter a new industry. Firstly, ensure they have a good understanding of the culture and challenges associated with the new industry so that they go in eyes wide open to the realities of the role.
Secondly, in the first few months in their new industry the HR Professional will require accelerated development of their knowledge and understanding of the industry/business, new terminology etc. Not just ‘touring’ different sites and doing meet and greets but having the person undertake some hands on work at the frontline will really help them understand the organisation, its culture and its people – and importantly, gain credibility with internal clients.
Talent pools for HR people are shallow only because we make them so. Organisations should be identifying and recruiting the best available HR talent – top HR operators will quickly pick up industry knowledge and context if given time and support to do so. Companies which broaden their HR talent pools will build better performing HR teams.