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Should sector experience trump personality and cultural fit?

Posted by: Laurence Simons 11/05/15

So often in the recruitment processes consultants are given the brief to find someone with specific sector or industry experience, and on many occasions that will be exactly the right kind of hire to make. Equally there are times when personal attributes, fresh ideas and transferable skills are more important and more useful that specific knowledge of a sector.

One criticism often levelled at headhunters and recruiters is that they will always favour someone who is going to serve their immediate interests. I understand that cynicism and, as in any industry, there are good and bad practitioners. Taking the sector approach can arguably be viewed as taking the easy option! However, I’m not saying that is always the case, as often we are working hard on an assignment to a specific brief from a client that sector knowledge is a must. Much as we can try, sometimes our clients won’t budge, which can be frustrating for recruiter and candidate alike.

There is a big but, or may be even a point coming here. Good recruitment should be about collaboration between client and recruiter. It should also be about advising and challenging our clients on the best way to go, about a thorough approach and it should also include the ability to be creative within the process, to bring a spark of imagination on both sides. I do think that clients could often benefit in their strategic recruitment by thinking about people from outside their sector who have transferable skills – it widens the talent pool and increases your chances of getting someone who is the best person for the role in terms of fit, skills and personal attributes.

If, however, you do find all the skills and personal attributes that you want in two competing candidates, then sector experience is always going to trump a lack of it unless the skills and personal attributes are so compelling as to win the day. That’s the ideal, but in my experience that doesn’t always happen. Where it doesn’t the personality, cultural fit and people skills you are looking for should trump sector experience every time.