Industry Expertise

Since there's a (temporary in my mind) glut of candidates, some hiring managers are asking for specific industry expertise, such as: consumer product, enterprise-wide application, or web-content expertise. Unfortunately, that's shorthand for what I believe people are really looking for: a specific mindset that meets the cultural requirements of the product development process.

Here's an example. My colleague Chad has over 8 years managing enterprise server & application test teams. He's a great test manager. In my opinion, he's adaptable, having practiced several kinds of methodologies and test approaches. But he's having trouble getting interviews with non-enterprise product organizations, because those folks don't know how to translate their needs (for example, for consumer product experience) against his background.

If you're a hiring manager try this. Instead of shorthand for industry expertise, decide what's important about your industry expertise. Is the ability to cycle through a project quickly? Is it adaptability to a variety of projects? Is it understanding what your customers value and when they want the product? Is it how a candidate works on small products vs. large products in terms of process and procedures? Is it knowledge of real-time applications or transaction processing? The more you define what industry expertise means to your open position, the more successful your resume screening, interviewing, and hiring will be.

If you're a candidate, first make sure you research the company so you can be ready for the phone screen and interview. That way you can anticipate potential industry expertise questions. Assuming you actually land a phone screen, if the problem of industry expertise arises, ask the interviewer what problem(s) they're trying to avoid. Then if the interviewer says something like this, “Well, we want someone who's flexible with the testing process for our small products,” you can say, “When I started with so-and-so, the product was small. Here's what I did to organize the testing (and tell your behavior-description story).

As the product evolved, here's how I responded (and explain when you took steps to do what).”It is useful to check for industry expertise, but functional skills and domain expertise (or the ability to quickly learn the domain) outweighs any tools/technology or industry expertise. In fact, I've found that when I've hired people from outside the industry, they come with new and novel ideas that are often useful. When I've had an option, I've selected people with superior problem-solving skills, adaptability, high functional expertise, and the ability to quickly acquire domain expertise. It's worked for me.

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