I saw a blog post on www.askamanager.blogspot.com a couple of years ago that asked the question, “When hiring, how much does industry knowledge matter?” The answer was “not much.” Here are the first two paragraphs of the post…
When hiring, how much does knowledge of your industry matter? It’s a nice bonus, but in most cases it shouldn’t be a driving force behind your hiring decisions. But too often I see hiring managers over-valuing this sort of knowledge, and hiring the wrong candidates.
If you hire someone smart and motivated, they will learn your issue or industry. Hire for the things you can’t teach, like intelligence, work ethic, communication skills, integrity, and whatever non-teachable skills the open position truly requires. It may take your new hire a little extra time to get up to speed, but once that happens, he or she will blow away that mediocre candidate whose main advantage would have been starting out with industry knowledge.
The author makes a good point. And it’s one with which I agree. Industry knowledge should not be the deciding factor in making hiring decisions. I think it is a nice thing to have.
However, once you have a job, you need to get up to speed in your industry quickly – and more important – stay up to speed.
Here’s a personal story. Many years ago, my first job in business was with a large oil company. When I took that job, I decided to learn everything I could about the company and the oil industry. So I read the company’s history, and got on the distribution list for all of the industry publications to which my colleagues subscribed.
I took home a stack of magazines every night. I read about trends in petroleum marketing, exploration and refining. I learned about the compliance issues facing the industry – in those days, affirmative action for women was a hot topic. When I joined the company, there were men with whom I worked who had been male secretaries because when they began their careers the company had a policy of hiring no women. As you might expect, environmental compliance was also a hot issue.
I learned about all of these issues, and I went one step further. I befriended coworkers in the Marketing, Exploration, Refining and Compliance areas. I had lunch with them and picked their brains about what Marathon was doing regarding all of the industry issues about which I had read.
Pretty soon, I got a reputation as a knowledgeable young guy. I was working in the Training and Organization Development department, so many people didn’t expect me to have the depth of industry knowledge I developed in a relatively short time frame.
One day, I was traveling on the company plane with the VP of Refining. He was making a trip to a refinery we had in Louisiana. I was going to the same refinery to conduct some supervisory training. I engaged him in conversation about something I had read in an industry publication. He had been mentioned in the article.
We got into a fairly deep discussion of the topic. When we were landing he said, “I’m surprised I’ve never met you. How long have you been with us?” I said “Seven months.” He was astonished. He said that I knew as much about the issues as many folks who had been with the company for 10 years. He invited me to visit with him in his office when we returned from the trip.
That visit was the beginning of a great relationship with this guy. He always asked for me when he had training or OD needs. I became a bit of a star because I took the time to become knowledgeable about industry issues.
The common sense career success coach point here is simple. You can build a great reputation in your company by following the career advice in Tweet 84 in Success Tweets. “Stay up-to-date in your industry. Read industry publications. Know the hot topics for your company, competitors and industry.” Staying up-to-date doesn’t take a lot of effort, especially when so much information is available on line these days. Take a few minutes every day to read at least one industry-related article. You’ll find that pretty soon you’ll be very knowledgeable about the pressing issues for your company and industry. And, being knowledgeable is a great way to get noticed by the people who can influence your chances for promotion.