Industry Experience vs. Successful Experience

Recently, I was speaking with a client, who was looking to hire a salesperson. The previous hire didn’t work out, and it was time for a change. I had a fantastic candidate in mind, with years of successful sales experience, and then my client asked me the question:

“Does this candidate have industry experience selling our particular product?”The answer was, “no,” and before I could say another word, the conversation ended with, “Oh, sorry, that just won’t work. We are only looking for someone who has experience within our particular industry.” It’s a classic response, it’s almost always nonnegotiable, and it’s absolutely one of the biggest mistakes any hiring manager can make.I guess I started forming this rather stubborn opinion when I was in my early 20’s. During my entire childhood, my beloved Washington Redskins had been a painfully average franchise, and they were almost always in the lower half of the league. The team decided to take a chance on a new general manager named Bobby Beathard. It’s impossible to decide the best picks among Beathard’s career with the Redskins: That’s because he not only drafted multiple future hall of famers, but he also signed 27 free agents who went on to win several Super Bowls and a decade of competitive teams.What was Beathard’s secret regarding his eye for talent? He never looked for superstars for the specific positions. Instead, he looked for the best athletes available in the draft or free agent market. He felt just about anyone could learn the plays from a playbook. Some might pick these plays up quickly, and others might take a little longer. But actual athleticism was a different story. He knew not everyone could be fast. Not everyone would be fully committed to winning. Not everyone would be an asset and a leader in a locker-room. What’s more, these things can’t be taught; they are intangibles that players either have or they don’t have.Now let’s reexamine the original question I posed:Who would you rather hire, someone with industry experience or someone with sales experience?The fact is, almost anyone could learn the products that need to be sold. Some might pick this product information up quickly, and others might take a little longer. But not everyone can consistently put those around them at ease. Not everyone can be fully committed to working hard, and exceeding expectations. Not everyone can be an asset and a leader within a company… and these are attributes that are difficult, if not impossible, to teach. These are intangibles that people either do or do not possess.This BLArticle® is not just aimed at hiring salespeople. What about hiring someone with specific industry experience vs successful experience within the general field? What about someone with specific management experience vs successful experience as a leader? What about someone with specific teaching experience vs successful experience presenting and inspiring rooms of people?If you have ever been denied a chance for a job because you didn’t have the industry experience, even though you did have successful experience within the field, please be comforted by knowing that the company made a bigmistake! Learning the specific industry is the easy part – being successful is most certainly not!So the next time you hear the words, “Sorry, we’re are only looking for someone who has experience within our particular industry,” articulate the key points within this BLArticle®, show them a few athletic moves, and with a little luck, you’ll be given the opportunity you so richly deserve.

Related: Helping Manage the Decision for Change