Getting to the c-suite: the pros and cons of industry-hopping

by Janie Smith22 May 2014
While most top executives make their mark in a specific industry or field, HR is one of the few business professions that can move between different industries – from financial services to accounting, or from FMCG to retail, for example.

For those looking to climb the ranks, is it worth engaging in industry-hopping?

The answer is yes, according to Kim Shanahan, the managing director of recruitment firm Korn Ferry International’s human resources practice.

Shanahan told Workforce that moving into new industries is worth it for HR professionals who want to make it to the c-suite.

“We see it as very advantageous for HR executives to go into new industries,” she said.
“Having a diverse background allows you to take best practices from one industry and apply them in another. And that’s what a lot of companies today are looking for.”

Bob Hogarth, general manager of people and culture at Heritage Bank, told HC Online that while broad career experience can be an advantage, the downside is when people move on every two or three years and don’t see the results of the initiatives they put in place.

“I think sometimes a balance is good. I haven’t moved around a lot and it’s served me quite well, but I do understand there are others who have gained experience in lots of different industries and it’s worked for them.

“But I also think those who spend a little bit of time at an organisation and move every two or three years never have to live with their decisions. It’s easy to come in and have a honeymoon period, shake the world up a bit and move on, but who knows if that works or not.”

He said having a multi-discipline approach to HR was an advantage when it came to career progression.  

However, moving into a new industry may not be an easy task.

Lisa Robson, practice manager at the talent-sourcing company The HR Space, said people can face a hurdle in getting an employer in a new industry to take them on if they haven’t already worked in a similar environment.

“My advice to anyone wouldn’t necessarily be to think too much about the industry, but more around the decision-making within that industry.

“For example, some businesses will be very risk-averse and very considered and there will be many layers of hierarchy and they will require quite a lot of evidence before making any decisions from an HR perspective. Others will make quite big decisions based on very little data because they’re much more fast-paced and dynamic and have more of an appetite for being less risk-averse. They offer different challenges and opportunities.”

She said business capability was a greater advantage than industry experience and those who truly understood the business context they worked within could add more value in terms of being a business practitioner with an expertise in HR, rather than the other way around.

“Certainly, there are benefits to a diverse range of industry experience, not because of the experience itself but because of the different complexities of how decisions are made and how businesses operate.

“It’s about business capability in terms of really being able to understand the business context that you’re working within and add much more of a business-savvy value to that organisation – in my opinion, that’s what gets people to the top of the tree and makes those practitioners step up and stand out.”

Do you think jumping industries is important for career progression?
 

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