When Experience Isn’t Transferable

Recruiters are taught to look for “transferable experience,” with the idea that tasks and responsibilities will readily translate to another environment.

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While this is common practice, it shouldn’t be considered a best practice—at least not without several considerations.

Not the Same

The fact is experience may not be equivalent, relevant or transferable. Any number of factors can make a difference, including industry, company size, business scope, staff size, and company culture.
Each industry has different standards and protocols, for example. Similarly, a large company operates very differently from a small business. Likewise, a business that is global in scope has considerations that don’t pertain to a business with only local customers.
Staff size matters as well. At a small company, there tends to be less hierarchy, which impacts everything from reporting structure to the job tasks people perform. At a large company, roles are usually more clearly defined. This difference affects all employees. However, managers accustomed to working in one environment or the other may find it especially difficult to adjust.
Certain business sectors also have vastly different focuses, and these influence work environments and the way employees do their jobs. An educational institution is one example. A nonprofit organization is another.

Assessing Fit

When looking to match past experience with current job requirements, the inclination may be to see a fit where there isn’t one. And the last thing you want to do is force a fit. This will likely result in lose-lose, for the company and the candidate.
So, how do you prevent this from happening? Before you begin the candidate screening process, take these steps.
Determine what constitutes transferable experience. This is often straightforward, and the job description can serve as a guide. For example, if you’re looking for someone who has a managed a team, and a candidate has managed a staff of one, the person’s experience probably isn’t transferable. This doesn’t mean the candidate isn’t capable – but he or she doesn’t have transferable experience. There is a difference.
Determine what experience is a must. Maybe you’re willing to take a chance on an otherwise qualified person who has limited management experience. However, if past experience managing a team is critical, know this, and move on.
Determine which industries, work environments, and job tasks allow for transferable experience. This will help you set parameters. It will also save you time.
As part of the process, rely on knowledge acquired through years of recruiting. For example, at one time you may have thought sales and fundraising experience were interchangeable. You’ve since learned that although many of the same skills are required, they are entirely different tasks.
Once you know what you’re looking for in terms of transferable experience, it will be easier to find candidates who are truly a fit for the job.

Paula Paula Santonocito, Contributing Editor for Recruiting Daily Advisor, is a business journalist specializing in employment issues. She is the author of more than 1,000 articles on a wide range of human resource and career topics, with an emphasis on recruiting and hiring. Her articles have been featured in many global and domestic publications and information outlets, referenced in academic and legal publications as well as books, and translated into several languages.