Hi all

THE BLUF - I know this is going to be a big generalization but I was just wondering if this applies when reading or creating job descriptions and overcoming attempts to change industry sectors (say going from financial to pharma).

In my search, I often see job postings that I could and would like to do, except for the dreaded "must have 7 years Consumer Goods or High Tech or Banking or Whatever" experience. Does the 90/10 rule still apply?

Lots of career advisors talk about hyping one's transferable skills. Are there really any effective strategies to help one get in the door and beyond the alleged industry experience criteria?


wendii's picture
Admin Role Badge


Short answer: OH Yes.

Long answer: Let me share with you a little vignette since I'm in an expansive mood, of mr average manager writing a job description.

Bill's leaving, Bill's leaving. I'll have to do the monthly report myself. I hate doing the monthly report. I wonder if I can get someone in to do Bill's job in time to do the monthly report.

B****** HR. Job description indeed. I wonder if Bill's job description is in my file. ... ah yes. I wonder what that was under that coffee stain. Oh well, I'm sure it wasn't important. Now,

* Project Manager qualification (that sounds like a good idea. I'll keep that in.)
* Experience in setting up a project (well, our project's 2 years into a 5 year project but the more experience the better I guess)
* Experience managing people (team of 2 - still a team right?)
* 5 years experience of pharm industry (all the good guys come from pharm I'll leave that in)

Well, that was easy, publish, done.

Wendii arrives: So do you really need a PM qualification? What about people who've run projects but not the qualification? I think we should accept those too - we could always send them on a course if the paper is important. And you don't really need setting up project experience do you.. most people only stay in a job for 2 years so they'll probably only be doing the middle bit. And what about this last bit about pharma experience - would you accept 4 years 11 months? You would? Then it's not really about the time, but the experience right - so we'll just take that bit out. And pharma? What about the chemical industry or medicine? Oh, they're ok too? Then why don't we put those in?

Wendii's laws of job descriptions (hey, I figure if Mark can have laws I can too!)

1. Job descriptions written by hiring managers (who do not have access to me) often bear no resemblance to the job, the qualifications of the person hired or what the hiring manager really wants.

2. There is no such thing as the perfect candidate. If you get 75% of what you want, you're on to a good thing.

3. Hire for attitude, train for skill. Every Time.

Therefore, dear *, apply for everything you think is interesting, that you could be qualified for, and that you can show transferable skills for 75% of. If you don't apply, you don't get the job.


asteriskrntt1's picture

LOL @ Wendii's Laws of Job Descriptions...

I wish more screeners and recruiters had the insights of you and Mark.


jhack's picture

I once heard it as, "Hire for skill, fire for character..."


asteriskrntt1's picture

Either way, I need to get hired before I can get fired :)

bflynn's picture

Wendii - how do you screen for that? They way I've seen the process work, you'll never find that 90% attitude person via a resume because those people with the 10% less skill will never get an interview. Personal referrals are just about the only path I can see - the preferred path in most cases. However personal referrals aren't enough to fill the ranks of a company, not to mention being undesirable from an EEOC (US) perspective.

Going back to earlier posts - why do companies use a recruiting process that they recognize will result in inferior hires? That's a rhetorical question really, obviously my view is that they shouldn't.


asteriskrntt1's picture


About 18 months ago, we brought in an Alumni speaker, F. Ross Johnson -you may have heard of him, maybe not (Barbarians at the Gate etc.)

One of the attendees asked "Any insights on what we can do to ward off the upcoming onslaught from China?" He replied (parapharasing) "Yep, send them all our HR departments and bog them down with admin and adding no value whatsoever to most companies' performance."

A follow up question asked how HR got so powerful and again paraphrasing "Certain federal programs (read as affrimative action) created huge tracking and administrative quagmires and then the avalache started." Then the academics added TEAMS and screening for fit and it took all the responsiblity and power away from the hiring managers, who had their natural networks cut off. Etc Etc Etc.

How accurate this is, I can't say.... but the guy was a pretty successful executive and sits on some major boards, so there is probably some truth to it.


wendii's picture
Admin Role Badge


In the industry and the skill sets I'm usually looking for we're lucky to have a choice. Usually, we only have 5 or 6 cvs per position, and 2 will be wildly unsuitable (ie have applied for engineering roles and have only worked in retail on the checkout), and we interview the other 4.

Obviously, if you are recruiting for something where there are huge amounts of choice, you can pick and chose for people who have the best fit at the CV stage.

As for your rhetorical question:

Research shows that structured interview alone correlates with job success at 0.5 (so about half the time an interview will give you the right person for that job). If you use cognitive ability tests and structured interview you can get that to about 0.65. Of course, that depends on good interviewing. References, which many people consider to be a very good indicator are only at 0.25. The thing is, most of us believe we are very good at understanding people and at interviewing, and that our judgement will beat the odds. You could never convince a hiring manager not to do an interview!

I recently attended a presentation by a company which using artificial intelligence in recruiting. They took all the current employees, worked out which characteristics made for the best performance, and now test before they interview. What's interesting is because they test for characteristics they no longer look for work experience. So they have a much wider workforce: school leavers, mums who have been out of the workforce etc, because customer service, empathy etc are more important than having worked in that industry.

Maybe that's what we'll move to.. and then we really will hire for attitude!


bflynn's picture

[quote="wendii"]So they have a much wider workforce: school leavers, mums who have been out of the workforce etc, because customer service, empathy etc are more important than having worked in that industry.[/quote]

I believe this is one of the most exciting parts of changing hiring practices. By growing the candidate pool, you increase your supply and decrease the price you have to pay. I can't offer a proof of that other than basic economic principles, which is enough for me, but probably not for others.

I think it will take a lot to push the ideas out of theoretical, but the company that does it first will find themselves in a new world in the HR sense. Or maybe some have already done it and don't share.


corinag's picture

Let me pose you a related question:

I'm in a job (PR, corporate communications) where most of the skills are transferable. In essence, it's about building relationships, analyzing your public and your community, designing programs, writing skills, planning skills. What is not transferable, or seldom is, is the knowledge: an inside view of a certain industry, good contacts with the trade media, or simply with the journalists covering your beat etc.

What would you choose in that situation: more skills (senior person, proven ability at strategy, track record of successes for two or three companies) or more knowledge (less senior, but coming from within the industry)? I think the dilemma applies to HR and a number of other jobs where the "technical" knowledge is not really a factor (unlike constructions, or IT, or ...)

I would go for skills, somebody who has been successful within two or three different companies, in different locations, could definitely be so in a different industry, although their learning curve in the company may be steeper or the time they take longer. What's your take on this?

As to the attitude vs. skill comment, I still remember one experience years ago, (I wasn't listening to MT yet), when I hired somebody although she wasn't exactly right because we were terribly short-staffed and coming up to a major initiative that we couldn't have handled in our very small team. The panel (the position reported to me, but interacted with different programs, so we brought some of those managers in to give feedback - it was standard procedure in our company) noted the shortcomings, but recommended we hire. I felt the same way. I checked it with my boss, he had a short talk with the candidate, and at the end said: "I wouldn't hire her, she hasn't got "our" attitude". By that he didn't mean that the lady was different from the rest of us in terms of values and styles (me and my boss were polar opposites in terms of almost everything, but worked well together nevertheless, and the rest of the team was equally diverse) but that she wasn't fundamentally like the rest of us: independent, result-oriented, desirous of personal improvement. However, the boss also said: It's up to you though. And I hired her. And, my, was the boss right.

Coaching her for the first few months was a nightmare. She never asked questions when she was unclear about things, neither from me nor from her colleagues, although we encouraged her, and the others kept coming to me with questions whenever they needed advice (a "on-the-job-training" type of relationship was implied when we hired the people), she never did anything on time, no matter how much we explained that her failure to deliver was affecting the team. I would ask: how can we solve this, and what can you do in the future to improve this, and what sort of support do you need from me/us?" and she'd say something reasonable, and still fail to deliver. In 9 months, not only was the team tired from having to cover for her failures to deliver on deadline, but our whole department's standing in the company was diminished. I ended up having to fire her, which was also the first time I fired somebody. This was a hardworking, loyal person who simply did not have the attitude we needed in our environment, and I still think bitterly upon the harm I have caused to my team, and possibly to this person, by not listening to people who were more experienced than me, and for looking for a warm body instead of setting the bar high.

WillDuke's picture
Training Badge

So, if I get the question, it's skills vs. knowledge? Man, those are so close together in my mind I'd have a hard time making a distinguishing comment. Your distinction seems to be either someone with a long career (skills) vs a new person with industry contacts and specific knowledge (knowledge.)

Interestingly, your post goes on to basically say it doesn't matter if they have the wrong attitude. But putting that aside..

You said that most of the skills are transferable; that it's all about relationships. So I'd say you'd go with skills. Media and journalists want the contacts too, so it doesn't seem it would be hard for the right person to make those contacts.

corinag's picture

Maybe I wasn't clear about the continuation: in the skill vs. knowledge debate, I'd go for skills, although when it comes to relationships it's a bit iffy, they're so important in today's world.

But in terms of skills vs. attitude, it's all about attitude and the anecdote about my very sour experience was to point out that I failed miserably when hiring for skills, because in the absence of the right attitude, those skills were not used effectively, if at all.

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

Sorry I've been gone so long, folks.

I get this question all the time, and I don't feel it's the right one. It presupposes that the candidate without an offer knows why they are not getting one...and that's just rarely true.

Wendii is COMPLETELY right... well done!

Sure, a resume alone won't necessarily break free...if it looks like all the others. But if it's a sharp one pager, and is tailored as best as possible for the role (different role, some different shading), and includes a solid cover letter, and there is follow up, I know, from my years of experience, that an interview CAN be had. And once the interview starts, attitude becomes the key watchword.

ALL THIS is still true even though the H Law that is being referred to here is about interviewing, and NOT about the entire job search.

It's good to be back.