So you are one of two candidates vying for an accounting position at a publishing house. You both have the requisite degrees and over 10 years of experience, but she has worked for a publisher and you have not. Who has a better shot at the job and why?
But wait, you say, an accountant doesn’t have to know publishing: He can pick things up about the industry fairly quickly, right? It’s the accounting skills that are important. I don’t disagree, but if you were the hiring manager, and you had to pick between two accountants with equal technical skills, identical except for the fact that one candidate comes from your industry and the other doesn’t, which would you choose? It’s a no-brainer: You’d choose the one who knows your business.
When employers interview candidates from other industries, they first look for the technical skills used to execute the responsibilities of the job. If you’ve gotten as far as the interview, you clearly have many of these skills. Your issue now becomes one of “suitability”: your industry- specific understanding of why things get done the way they do.
The Causes of Industry Bias
Every industry develops distinctive characteristics in response to the unique qualities of the service it delivers to customers. Every company is engaged in industry-specific methodologies and challenges, and there are always idiosyncratic situations and sensitivities that arise from the nature of that industry’s product or service. Industries naturally develop their own languages, priorities, and ways of doing things in response to their needs.
Industry bias springs from real concerns about a candidate’s understanding of the building blocks of commerce in the new industry: the industry jargon, the myriad problems likely to crop up on the job every day, and the working relationships necessary to execute on the company’s promise of excellent service or product.
A candidate who doesn’t understand the language of the new industry almost certainly won’t be sensitive to the other industry-specific challenges and the methodologies developed in response. This candidate is seen as having a longer, steeper learning curve, which means more time and money in training and greater odds of a failed hire, both of which managers prefer to avoid because these costs lead to failed managers.
What can you do to overcome this industry bias if switching industries is part of your job search plan and you are stalling out in job interviews?
The Solutions to Industry Bias
You already have many of the technical, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills of the new job; what you lack is that intuitive feel for how your work fits into the overall moneymaking machinery of this particular industry. Understanding the unique challenges posed by the services the new industry exists to satisfy—the needs of the clients, vendors, colleagues, and coworkers with whom you and your work interact—will be at the core of both your research into the new industry and your subsequent positioning at job interviews.
How do you deal with this? Give yourself a “new industry 101” orientation course. Take the time to understand the unique qualities of service that define your target industry and the challenges these present to the workers within the industry.
Identify people already doing this work: They can educate you about these issues, and tell you why things work the way they do. You can ask these questions of contacts in your alumni or professional association, your professional networks, or on industry/profession-specific groups on LinkedIn. You can also search databases on LinkedIn and other social networking sites for people who have made similar transitions.
The insights you gather will enable you to understand your future place in your new industry. (How you use social networks to help you do this is beyond the scope of this book, but it is detailed in the latest edition of Knock ’Em Dead: The Ultimate Job Search Guide.)
When an employer sees your grasp of industry-specific issues and protocols, the risks associated with hiring you will diminish.