Diversify with Career-Change Candidates: 6 Factors to Consider

Our culture abounds with stories of famous people who changed careers. Vera Wang left her job as a fashion editor to become a designer. Walt Disney was fired from his job as a newspaper editor and became an entertainment mogul. While most seekers of career change are unlikely to lead global name brands known by millions, their skills, experience, and perspective can be a powerful asset to your organization.

“The data strongly suggest that homogeneity stifles innovation,” says a study by the Center for Talent Innovation entitled “Innovation, Diversity and Market Growth.” Employees at publicly traded companies that have a combination of inherent and acquired diversity are 70 percent more likely than employees at non-diverse publicly traded companies to report that their firm captured a new market in the past 12 months, and they are 45 percent more likely to report that their firm improved market share.

As mentioned previously, inherent diversity refers to gender, gender, race, age, religious background, socioeconomic background, sexual orientation, disability and nationality. Acquired diversity refers to cultural fluency, generational savvy, gender smarts, social media skills, cross-functional knowledge, global mindset, military experience and language skills.

Hiring candidates who seek change is a way to increase acquired diversity in your organization. Employees who are motivated to change fields bring knowledge from previous jobs, industries, company types, education and life experience that can inject fresh perspective. When considering candidates from diverse backgrounds, consider the whole candidate, not just skills from previous roles, their industry or education.

Six Aspects of the Whole Candidate

1) Previous Role and Transferable Skills. Don’t automatically eliminate career-change seekers because they haven’t performed in a specific role in the past. The fact that they are applying for a job outside of their range indicates that they have a greater view of their potential than their previous role allowed. They are likely to have a wealth of transferable skills and knowledge, such as managing informational or interpersonal complexity, communicating with customers, writing and/or graphics, problem-solving, etc. Some roles are a natural jump, such as engineering to product management, administrative to marketing or recruiting to sales. Some candidates make the effort to gain experience in a new field through education or volunteering.

2) Desire and Motivation. Avni Shah, lead recruiter for Simply Hired, says that career-change seekers “are likely to be more passionate and motivated about the role than the person who has relevant experience.” This eagerness to learn serves as a motivating factor, increasing their potential to contribute. But, she cautions, “It’s a red flag if they are only motivated to change jobs for money. It’s important to gauge their enthusiasm for the new role.”

3) Company Size or Type. Small companies, start-ups, large companies, non-profits—there is an endless array of business types in which a candidate can have experience, and each type of business has different strengths. A candidate from a start-up could be an asset to a large organization wanting to be more nimble, while a candidate from a large global company could help drive organizational efficiency by helping to put processes in place at a small, younger firm. Consider how the operational worldview of a candidate’s previous employers or their motivation to explore another organizational type could be an asset.

4) Industry. It’s well-known that industry knowledge often has little to do with how well a candidate can perform in a certain role. CEOs are known to jump industries frequently. Many roles, such as customer service, accounting, human resources, sales and marketing have widely transferable skills. Often candidates seek a change from their previous industry just as much as they seek a change in job title and role. Find out why they are changing industries, and consider how their knowledge of another industry might benefit the open role.

5) Education. Many candidates make the leap to a new field by investing time and money in full- or part-time education before applying. This effort shows their commitment to changing careers—turning their dreams into reality. Whether or not the education is required for the specific role, ask career-change candidates about their educational experiences and most important lessons learned.

6) Life Experience and Hobbies. Some candidates are so passionate about what they want to do professionally that they invest a significant amount of time outside of work engaging in that activity. When asked about the value of volunteer work and hobbies, Simply Hired vice president of human resources Ericka Tate cited an example: “I once hired a product marketing person who had no true professional company experience in that area but had done so much on his own via blogs, starting his own online magazine and volunteering. He was hungry and showed a willingness to find a way to get the experience.” Probe candidates on their engagement with activities off-the-job to get a sense of how they will perform on the job.

In the digital age, candidates have the ability to apply to jobs with just a few clicks from a stored online resume. To surface the top career-change job seekers who can add diversity to your company, look closely at cover letters and resume objective statements. Also consider their willingness to be flexible. If they held a management position in the past, are they willing to take a step down in order to learn the ropes of a new role or field?

The tendency to focus on one or two aspects of a candidate’s background limits your ability to see the candidate as a whole person, and it is a whole person who will be showing up for work every day. To increase the level of diversity at your company and drive innovation and market share growth, consider the seeker of career change for your next open role.

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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