How to Think Like a Pioneer when Hiring Pioneers

“To boldly go where no one has gone before.” You may recognize that quote from the opening of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” While it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be hiring spaceship captains anytime soon, hiring for a position that is the first of its kind at a company can feel like being on the Starship Enterprise with its mission “to explore strange new worlds.”

When a position comes across your desk in a new field—one you have not had to fill before—what can you do to make the process easier? You may be skilled at filling customer service, sales or engineering positions, but filling positions in new fields such as data science, user experience design or artificial intelligence presents a challenge that requires the same pioneering approach you want your top candidates to have.

Here’s how to get started:

1. Research existing positions in the field 

According to Terra Winston, principal of Interract Consulting, “What’s new to you is probably not brand new to the world.” Winston emphasized the importance of networking in addition to online research. “Talk to other recruiters and people in the field,” she said, “and ask about red flags, fluff answers and how to probe.” There’s no need for you to be a lone ranger even if the person you’re hiring for may be a lone ranger—an “ambassador of the strange new world to the company,” as Winston called such employees.

2. Create a realistic job description 

“In an ideal world,” said Kristy Stromberg, vice president of marketing at Simply Hired, “the recruiter would be a strategic thought partner to the hiring manager.” The job description is where you have the opportunity to make your job of filling the position easier and to help the company move forward in this new field. Stromberg emphasized the importance of identifying transferable skills from specific fields. 

“Back when I had to build out my first digital marketing team, we identified fields in which we could find candidates with strong analytical backgrounds,” she said. 

Instead hunting for the very few current experts in the new field, cast a wider net by searching for transferrable skills, list them in the job description and look for candidates with applicable business backgrounds. Use your knowledge of the skills required by positions in existing fields to guide the hiring manager in determining which skills apply to the new position. 

In addition to identifying transferable skills, clarify the non-negotiable requirements for the position with the hiring manager before recruiting. Which technical skills are a must? This is where your research also plays a role. Winston cited an example of a job description that asked for six years of experience in a programming language that had only existed for four years. A quick search online will help you create accurate requirements for obscure technical skills.

3. Look for learning agility and leadership ability 

“Hiring people in new fields is different in the sense that because it’s a new role, training can be somewhat difficult,” said Avni Shah, lead recruiter at Simply Hired. Shah noted that other team members usually train new hires, but with new roles “you’re basically relying on a person’s ability to lead their own training.” 

Hire people who learn as they go and will act as ambassadors of their functions to the rest of the company. Winston mentioned that hiring existing “genius” experts—particularly those with academic backgrounds—can be risky if they don’t know how to translate the value of their work back to the business objectives and evangelize it to the larger team. 

A combination of behavioral- and scenario-based interviewing techniques are necessary to see how the person will work with the team, how they deal with challenges and how they would go about solving business problems. 

“You want to know what their vision is and how they imagine this new function will help your business because you don’t know either,” Winston said. 

Like any hire, hiring for a new role is a gamble, but in this case you’re gambling on their ability to build something that you may not have the ability to evaluate. Use your research to help the hiring manager determine what success will look like. 

Five or ten years from now that person you hired for an obscure job in a new field could be leading a whole team of experienced experts. Every new position is an opportunity to help the company grow. While it may not look like Starship Enterprise, that so-called new world will become the old world soon enough.

Over the next several months we’ll be sharing best learnings and best practices on how to adapt and thrive in this new era of changing careers.


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