Hiring outside your industry sector: HR Insights Series

woman on phone

Clair Daly, Head of People at Quintain joins Claire Dunwoody for our third Q&A session of the Robert Walters HR Insights Series. Speaking from past experience in hiring roles across a variety of industries, Clair discusses the pros and cons of hiring HR professionals from a different sector than your business operates in. See what Clair has to say here:



Could you tell us a little about your background and where you are working now?

I have nearly 20 years’ experience in HR. I completed a HR/IR graduate programme with IBEC in 2003 which catapulted me into the world of HR and I have never looked back.

I have worked in a variety of industries; Financial Services / Legal /Banking / Private Equity & Aircraft Leasing and more recently I have joined a newly established organisation called Quintain as their Head of People. Quintain is one of the largest mixed-use developers in Ireland.

Regarding hiring a HR professional, why do you think some organisations have a strong preference to only look within the sector they operate in?

Most commonly, consistency/familiarity but also knowing that the person you have recruited will have prior knowledge of the sector and understand ‘how things are done’ can bring great comfort. Coupled with knowing that they will understand what is expected of them can set the new hire up for success.  That said, people are people and their demands are not unique to one industry; recruitment/ grievances/ disciplinaries/ payroll/ learning and development all follow the same format no matter what sector you are in. You will still have to build relationships and win the business over and get to grips with the culture of that particular organisation.

I can see the advantages of hiring someone from your own sector but given my own experience and background I am a strong advocate of hiring from a different industry to your own. HR experience is transferable and applicable to all sectors. Also, you avoid unconscious bias and the danger of recruiting somebody that may be similar to you and your own experience.

Why do think hiring a HR professional from a different sector is something that would be beneficial to an organisation? Is there ever an instance where it is not appropriate?

Diversity is key and based on my own experience coming from a different sector/background brings different experiences and ideas to the table. The profile of employees that surround you exposes you to different mindsets and cultures. Of course, no one organisation has the same culture, but each sector may have similar ways of doing things. For example, when recruiting in the banking sector you must abide by the Central Bank’s Fitness and Probity guidelines for PCF roles. But we must remember HR is governed by employment law and that is applicable to all sectors and the guiding principles remain the same; follow due process, treat people fairly. 

I personally have learnt so much from changing sectors along the way and working with professionals with completely different skillsets. It challenges you to learn, adapt and grow and enables you to fill your toolkit with an array of experiences.

I personally have learn so much from changing sectors along the way. You could argue that this happens regardless but if you don’t move out of a particular sector your thought process may become uniformed to the industry you are in and you may not push boundaries or test the waters to try something different. Diversity is key because this enables you to learn from those around you and allows you to see the world through a different lens.

Therefore, I cannot point to an instance where this would be inappropriate.

What have been the challenges you have faced when moving sectors?

Understanding the business but you can get up to speed with this pretty quickly when you ask the right questions; build relationships; earn trust from the business and learn from others within the organisation. People are so giving of their time and want people to succeed. I also find being actively involved in recruitment is seriously beneficial because you are immersed in a process where you are learning not only from the hiring manager but the candidates themselves about their experience and that helps you to understand the role and how it fits into the organisation.  Also, never be afraid to ask questions no matter how basic they may seem; this will help you on your journey to understanding the organisation.

The culture of the organisation may also be a challenge especially if it’s not what you are used to. I recall one role where it took me a while to adapt to the culture because I didn’t have the same freedom as I had in a previous role. Whilst I was able to perform my role from an operational /day to day point of view, it was only when I immersed myself fully into the organisation that I was able to add strategic value to the organisation and challenge the status quo from within. However, your willingness to learn and to adapt to any new environment will help you succeed in your role.

The industry may also have their own nuances for example recently I was recruiting for a construction company and upon interviewing a candidate, the hiring manager wanted to make an offer to the candidate there and then. I could not get my head around this, I was so used to going through a process, shortlisting and having at least 2 rounds of interviews. How can you just offer a role without going through a full process, but the construction industry moves extremely quickly for certain roles and if you don’t offer the role you are at risk of losing a candidate. It took me a while to get my head around this.

How have you leveraged off your past sectoral experience in your current role with Quintain Ireland?

This role came about because I had previously worked with the Joint Managing Partners of Quintain in a former Company. The relationships built previously allowed me to hit the ground much quicker than I expected even though this was a brand-new industry to me. The fact that we had worked together for the best part of 5 years enabled me to adapt to their way of working and I already knew their personalities and expectations of me. However, as the industry is completely new to me and I have to learn the nuances of the industry as I go along, I am still learning and will continue to learn but this is true of all of my roles to date and I believe you never stop learning no matter how long you are with the business.

This is what gets me most excited because I am learning something new every day and my past experience is allowing me to add value to the organisation. Prior to Quintain, I worked in AirCraft Leasing and prior to that private equity where I worked across different jurisdictions but again what is pertinent to any of my roles is creating an environment where people can thrive and grow; trust and allow people the freedom to excel in their roles.

Culture is what separates companies from each other, even if they are in the same sector.  It is what makes companies stand out and attract individuals to that particular organisation. So back to your question, my past experiences have taught me to get the culture right; hire the right person for the right role; trust your people and allow them to have the freedom to excel in their chosen profession and be there to support and guide them when needed. People bring their whole selves to work and we have to support the individual no matter what.

What are the main challenges for you currently and how are you navigating them?

Right now, Covid- 19 is having a challenging impact on every business no matter what sector you are in, companies are having to adapt to this new environment we find ourselves in and it has brought about radical changes that nobody could have predicted. Little did I think I would be recruiting people through an online tool like Teams and making offers to candidates that I have yet to meet face to face. Onboarding employees is another challenge and in today’s environment is being done remotely. We have one new joiner who was with his previous company for 25 years and his first day is not in our office like we planned pre -Covid-19. But we must adapt to our new environment and keep going and set new joiners up remotely.  We are fortunate that we can honour their start dates as we can work from home due to the Company’s investment in technology.

The challenges we are facing are ensuring that newly recruited employees are being integrated into the organisation like any of our other employees that joined prior to March 2020.

Welcoming a person into the organisation is even more important than ever because you cannot rely on traditional methods and you must ensure they feel welcomed from afar and are not feel isolated at home. More thought has to be put into onboarding new joiners, whilst traditional processes are still being followed; welcome emails being sent to all staff etc. we now have to ensure they are introduced to everyone in an appropriate manner be it through online coffee morning/team meetings/ video/tele calls and ensure that the onboarding not only works for the company and the employee but the employee’s personalities as well.

A generic approach may not suit all new joiners or their new team. You have to ask how do you ensure they are being properly embedded into the team so it’s important to create a space where they can connect with their new team and build relationships that will continue to grow post Covid 19. Now it’s even more important to keep the lines of communication open. Other challenges are employment offers; candidates getting cold feet and reassuring them that now is the right time to join an organisation or identifying your preferred candidate but asking them to wait for a start date Post Covid-19. We are encountering several challenges but it’s important to adapt to our current situation and make the best of the situation we are in.

If you would like to find out more information on how to onboard your new recruit remotely, click here or get in touch with Claire Dunwoody today.

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