Hiring from Another Industry

A reader writes, "Recently I interviewed a candidate for an open sales position.  She has a well-documented history of exceeding quota, and has taken several respected sales training courses. I think she'd fit in well with the sales staff.

"The problem - her past two positions were in completely different industries from our company. I have concerns about her ability to make the transition. What can I do to minimize the risk if I offer her a job?"

Many people enter the workforce with little or no experience in the field they end up employed in. Somehow, they learn what they need to know. Just as many change careers at some point - successfully making the switch to another vocation. So, we know it can be done.

You want to know if this specific candidate has what it takes to succeed. Making this determination comes down to their innate skills and abilities, as well as the responses to questions you ask during the interview process.

Get Curious

See how much thought the candidate has put into this change by posing questions such as:

  • Your previous experience is in the industries of X and Y. What do you see as the similarities between the market my company serves and your previous two positions?
  • What do you see as the differences?
  • Tell me what you know about how we compare with our competition?


Making a career change or transitioning into another industry takes some get up and go. Find out how much effort the candidate will put into it. Questions could include:

  • When you switched from Company X to Company Y what did you do, outside of the company sponsored new hire orientation, to learn the new product or service?
  • How long did it take before you felt like you knew the product / service well?
  • Did you have a hard time learning about any particular facet of the product or service?
  • When you struggle to learn something, how do you go about getting the assistance you need?
  • If we offered no training whatsoever, how would you go educate yourself about our company's product or service?
  • What's something you do really well that you taught yourself?

Gauge how realistic they are about the time and work involved.

Utilizing Assessments

Which skills (hard and soft) does a rep need to succeed in your industry? Have them take one or more assessments to determine whether they have the necessary ones. For career or industry changers, I would especially want to know about their abilities in the areas of: 

  • Creative Thinking
  • Problem Solving
  • Self-starting

Do Some Homework

Before hiring this or any other rep making a change, talk to your sales staff. Ask them about their learning curve with your product or service. Find out: 

  • How long it took them to become comfortably knowledgeable
  • What they found the easiest / most difficult aspect to master
  • If they have any suggestions about improving the orientation process

Final Thoughts

Hiring someone from a different industry has advantages. They don't have a lot of preconceived assumptions about what will and won't work and what can and cannot be done.  Most bring a fresh perspective. 

Stay away from candidates, no matter how successful in another industry, who make vague statements about changing industries such as: 

  • "I need a new challenge."
  • "Your product sounds interesting."
  • "I learn new things really easily."

Those answers are insufficient. 

During the interview process, the rep should make a strong case for themselves, their understanding of the new industry, the work involved in learning all the new information, and how they see themselves adding value to the group.