Hiring Outside Your Industry – First Step to Innovation

Hiring Outside Your Industry - First Step to InnovationFor companies looking to navigate business challenges or expand in new directions or categories, an often overlooked innovation opportunity lies within the hiring process. Hiring candidates from outside or adjacent to a company’s core industry can influence future direction, foster growth and stimulate the entire organization. Internally however, companies struggle to incorporate openness into the hiring process, often compounding the strategic growth challenges they strive to solve.

It makes sense to want to hire people who have worked within your industry or related firm for the skills and rolodex they bring. Those hires may command a premium salary, but often offer a quick fix to a current problem. But prior industry experience in not always a plus, and it should not be assumed that prior related experience will automatically yield high performance. More often than not, the movement of human capital within a closed industry breeds complacency.

Organizations facing stalled growth or new competitive challenges need fresh thinking. Hiring candidates with the same norms and values as your current team will not meet the long term strategic growth needs of the organization. Relevant outside thinking makes a valuable contribution, enhancing business vitality, longevity and sustainability. Staying contemporary, revitalizing your brand, enhancing products and expanding into new markets all begin with the next person you interview and add to your team.

A recent well publicized example of a troubled company embracing outside hiring as a solution to their problems is the hiring of Laura Inman as Billabong’s new CEO. Ms Inman had worked with Australian retailers Big W and Officeworks, spending the last seven years as Managing Director at Target. She was admittedly unfamiliar with the Billabong brand and the surf culture it represents, with many publicly questioning her fit. But Billabong is not just a surf brand, it is a retail brand. And it is a retail brand in trouble. Who better to set future direction and lead innovation than a retail executive with a track record of success?

There is a degree of foresight needed to see beyond a résumé and obvious skill set, to the underlying benefit a candidate brings. Hiring for innovation is something many companies and human resource departments are not trained to recognize. To be clear, it is challenging. It begins by casting a much wider net than a hiring process would traditionally deploy. It involves assessing your brand and cultural equities and recognizing what other industries might have expertise you can source. It involves strategically integrating new hires into company cultures that may not welcome outsiders. But future benefits can far outweigh these hindrances.

In our modern business world you may find yourself faced with unforeseen challenges that can surface seemingly overnight. A diverse staff with varying backgrounds and experiences can help you navigate business challenges, innovate and adapt with more ease. Hiring from the outside builds a company that will grow and stay relevant, is poised to move outside of its traditional comfort zone and will pave the way for progress.

image credit: last.fm

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Hiring From Outside Your Industry - First Step to InnovationEric Seibold is Vice President, Client Solutions at ProdigyWorks where he specializes in strategic brand licensing, innovation, lifestyle brands and solution customization. Eric leads business development and client relations for Coca-Cola, HP, New Balance and Whirlpool, helping clients ideate, extend brands and launch new products.

Eric Seibold

Eric Seibold is Insights & Innovation Lead in the consumer products division of a Fortune 200 company. Over the past 10yrs he has also worked as Director, Business Innovation at InnoCentive and as Vice President, Client Services at a NYC based brand strategy firm. In those roles he helped category leaders like Coca-Cola, HP, Whirlpool, and New Balance successfully extend brands, launch new products and develop innovation ecosystems. This combined client & agency experience gives Eric a unique perspective, having managed projects throughout every stage of the innovation process – from insights & ideation through commercialization.




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No Comments

  1. Roy Luebke on August 20, 2012 at 3:13 pm


    Most company leaders want incremental innovation. As a result, they need people who are focused on small details, tweaks on features and functions, and knowledge of the existing business/industry is most important under these circumstances.

    When a business leadership team realizes that they need more transformational innovation and need to move into adjacent and/or new markets, then they really need thinkers who can envision new future states. They also need to look at portfolios of people and projects, and create a balance that supports attaining their strategic intent.

    I agreee with your article.

  2. Dale Brabham on August 21, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    It would be interesting to see how this works in lighting. You may find case studies where this innovative hiring is already being practiced. Traditional light source research has reached a very mature stage where technologies are highly specialized. But solid state light sources (LEDs) now appear as a strong, but disruptive technology.
    There is a huge collision. The traditional folks (think legacy) own all the distribution channels. The new kids (think electronic whizzes) believe they will transform the world not realizing that lighting is used to very long product cycles (ten year?), very foreign to electronic wonks. It is a train wreck that begs for new approaches.

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