I was talking with a chief marketer last week. He wants help recruiting a digital marketing leader. He said, “I’d like someone from outside my industry. When you do a search, how do you tell if someone can switch sectors successfully?”

What I thought to myself: Sounds super. Switching Sectors Successfully. I love alliteration!

What I said out loud: “Funny you should ask; that’s a topic that’s come up a lot recently.”

Here’s what we discussed.

In many of my recent recruiting projects, I’m seeing companies taking a swing to hire marketing leaders from outside their industry. The hiring teams trust that these industry transfers will bring fresh perspectives and innovation.

Cases in point:

  • The VP of Marketing search I did for a cybersecurity company that was open to marketers who would have to learn about security
  • The VP of Marketing search for a financial services organization that was launching a personalization initiative; we ended up recruiting someone with a background in retail
  • The digital health company that engaged me to recruit a marketing technology leader, and cares more about a candidate’s empathy for the consumer than whether that candidate has healthcare experience

If you too are leaning towards hiring for innovation instead of for familiarity, how do you pinpoint the people that will be the most successful? How do you scout and select those Successful Sector Switchers?

First I asked marketing pro Perry Hewitt, who is a successful sector switcher herself. Perry navigated from publishing to marketing services to marketing technology to higher education. As the Chief Digital Officer at Harvard University, she hired several sector switchers. Her tips:

1. “Prioritize people who have experience sitting on different sides of the table: Client AND agency experience; software vendor AND purchaser; central headquarters role AND a field office role. That hones the ability to see multiple perspectives.”

2. “Pay attention to who is immersing themselves in the new ‘product.’ The people I hired who were genuinely interested in the unique aspects of higher ed – who took a continuing ed course, or attended Harvard lectures, for instance– were far more likely to stay and excel.”

So during the recruiting process, see which candidates are putting in the time to learn your industry, download your app, try out your product, speak with your customers. See who is fast-tracking their learning even before they join.

Here are some additional suggestions from my experience:

3. Accelerate the process of getting familiar with your candidates. Hiring teams often feel an affinity for a candidate that comes from a company they know, that has worked with people they know, and that uses jargon they know. Call it the familiarity advantage.

So look for ways for the candidates from your industry and the candidates from ‘the outside’ to get on a more even playing field. One of my clients asks every candidate to do a 15-minute presentation on who they are and what they are interested in personally and professionally. The audience is the hiring team. Only after this presentation do the interviews start. That presentation works as a familiarity accelerator, and an efficient one at that.

4. Ask candidates, “What is the biggest achievement – personal or professional — you’ve had WITHOUT prior knowledge of that space?” The scale and scope of their answer will tell you lots. And you can see how animated they get when talking about being on the steep part of a learning curve.

5. Ask candidates to map out their learning agenda. People who are voracious learners and observers are more likely to switch industries successfully. By asking for a learning agenda, you’ll get to know how important learning is to a candidate, what they are motivated to learn, and how they learn.

6. Spearfish candidates from sectors with similar business dynamics. One example: Cybersecurity is a market that’s growing and crowded. The marketing technology sector is similar: it’s growing like a weed and vendors face real challenges punching through the clutter to reach their buyers. It’s not surprising then that many marketers have transferred between these two sectors.

7. Prioritize candidates who have switched sectors previously, and then moved up.

8. See which industries your current successful employees come from, ask them why they were able to make the switch. Then investigate people from those same industries and companies.

9. Keep an eye – actually, two eyes — on cultural fit. Your sector could have cultural dynamics that are obvious to you, but foreign to someone from the ‘outside.’ Consider having your finalist candidate spend a day in your office — not interviewing, but just shadowing people and observing.