How to … cross over industries

by 27 Nov 2007

Is it time for a change?

You spend your time helping your company identify and retain the best candidates and improving the employee experience of the people you work with … but what about you, the HR professional? Do you ever feel you’re in the right role but the wrong industry? Is it time for a change? Is it possible?

For a HR professional, the truth is changing industry can be difficult, but it is possible and it does happen.

There is no argument HR has evolved from a profession focused primarily on industry-specific policy development, employee relations and hiring and firing to a profession focused on employee engagement and organisational development.

Moving skills into a new industry

Employee engagement, development and motivation are commodities a business can influence and control. Today more than ever before HR specialists are driving these areas with great success to the business.

This shift in focus has opened the door for HR professionals wanting to move their skills into a new industry.

Ultimately, what organisations need is a HR professional with the specialist HR skills required to succeed in a specific role.

The point is, employees needs don’t differ according to industry. Whether a role is in an investment bank, a mine or on a shop floor, employees want to feel valued, listened to, rewarded, safe, inspired by their leaders and given the opportunity for development.

If basic employees needs don’t differ from industry to industry, why should HR people have to bring specific industry experience with them?

Traditionally, employers have looked for candidates with industry experience based on the belief that this guarantees the new recruit will understand and be able to fit into the culture of the new organisation. The general perception among many employers is that someone looking to change industries starts off at a disadvantage.

While industry type can act as a guide to culture it is not always an indicative measure. As a result, more and more employers are being advised to look toward the technical requirements of a role rather than previous industry experience when drafting job specifications and sourcing new recruits.

Making the transition

Unfortunately some organisations’ still choose to take the safe, easy option of looking for someone with similar industry background. Below are some helpful tips to consider when looking to make a transition from one industry to another:

1. Set realistic expectations. Some industries are harder to cross over to than others. For example, moving from government to banking is more difficult than moving from professional services to financial services, from retail to hospitality or from FMCG to manufacturing.

2. Quantify your achievement. Demonstrate measurable achievements from your current role including improved retention figures, engagement survey results, recruitment costs savings and third-party awards. These provide solid benchmarks.

3. Ensure skills alignment. Show how your technical skills helped drive the business you are currently working for, and demonstrate how these skills align with what’s important to the role you are looking to move into.

4. Demonstrate an understanding of culture. Show you have a level of understanding of the culture of the industry you are targeting. Do your research. If you don’t have the industry experience your technical skills must be beyond reproach.

5. Know your benefits to an employer. Show how you aligned HR strategies with the culture of your current organisation as a precursor to being able to do this again in a new industry. Know what you can deliver.

First six months of crossing over

Internal communication and word-of-mouth is important to establish your credibility and get people talking about the positive changes you are making within the organisation; pick the low-hanging fruit and get some quick wins.

Also, build relationships with people and demonstrate your capability and credibility. Don’t just do standard HR practices but implement some initiatives that are directly relevant to the industry; learn about the industry, analyse what makes it tick and demonstrate this understanding at every opportunity.

By Richard Taylor, practice leader, Hudson HR.