With a graduate degree in literature under her belt, Sara McGuire knew that to find a job, she was going to have to think creatively.
She knew she wanted to write but wasn’t sure how she wanted to apply her skills exactly. Throughout her undergraduate and graduate degrees, her various internships and contract positions had introduced her to copywriting, business communications, analytics, journalism, art history research and marketing.
The position she landed at an infographic software company as a Creative Content Strategist was a combination of fortunate timing, a friendly referral, and a track record of being able to learn quickly on the job.
Her formal training in the varied fields she had worked in so far had been very limited--she had taken a few professional writing courses, but aside from that, her learning took place on the job. She now found herself blogging for a tech startup, scrambling to learn the ropes in a fast-paced environment.
Sara’s situation isn’t an unusual one these days. There has been a lot of buzz in the media in the past few years about the benefits of widening your talent pool to outside your field. The new trend in tech is to hire liberal arts majors (imagine that?), according to a recent Forbes article.
Medical school acceptance committees have also shifted towards accepting students with a diversity of undergraduate studies. Why are companies moving from strictly specialized talent to including left-field candidates?
A New Perspective and Approach
When hiring from within the field, you know more or less what to expect. Candidates will have most likely gotten the standard education, may have done internships at other industry businesses, and may have learned to tackle problems in a similar way. Undoubtedly there is value in hiring like-minded people with a guaranteed skillset.
When hiring from outside the field, it can be a gamble—but a gamble that can and has in many cases paid off. Introducing a new perspective into the mix creates the opportunity for innovative new approaches. In a market where content is king, companies are placing more stock in people who are able to communicate well and who understand business processes.
In fact, this year, communication skills topped the list for qualities companies sought in job candidates.
Part of what has made Apple so successful over the years was Steve Job’s efforts to marry art and science. More than ever, companies are looking for creative, out-of-the-box thinkers.
An Ability to Self-Teach and Self-Start
In order to land a job outside of their field, candidates have had to go beyond their comfort zone. A well-informed and well-prepared candidate interviewing for a position outside of their field has to have been willing to put in the time and effort to research the field.
They have to have the confidence that they would be able to swim in a new environment. These are curious, self-starting candidates who are looking to challenge themselves. People who are more likely to conduct research in their own time, out of their own desire for personal development.
These are all desirable qualities in a candidate, something that many companies recognize. Among the top qualities sought after in new hires, “self-motivated,” “hardworking” and “flexible” were among the top listed.
Personality-based hiring has steadily gained more traction, with candidates who are able to convincingly share their stories about how they tackled problems creatively in past positions gaining the upper hand. With an overwhelming number of startups and small businesses, finding someone who fits the company culture has never been more important.
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It's Almost Impossible to Find the “Perfect” Candidate
Aside from the opportunities for innovation offered by hiring outside of the field, there is the simple and pragmatic fact that by widening the talent pool, companies are more likely to find candidates to fill their positions.
In today’s highly competitive job market, the odds of finding someone with the perfect combination of education, experience and willingness to accept low-ball pay are very low. While companies are apprehensive about the money that would be wasted hiring the wrong person, pouring more time and resources into waiting for the perfect candidate can have the same adverse effects.
Many small businesses are hiring people based on potential, rather than strict experience.
Sure, you could hire someone with 5+ years experience in your field and they would be able to do the work efficiently. But if you’re looking for employees who will grow with the company, people who you are able to build loyal relationships with, candidates from outside your field may have the drive and dynamic approach to learning that someone who has only worked in one field may not.
Related Article: We Can Do It: Paving a Path for Women in STEM Fields
Is One Better Than the Other?
Ultimately, many employers and tending towards team that are a well-rounded combination of technical and creative.
Hardcore STEM wizzes still have their places at companies, of course, but the introduction of new creative talent has added a new dimension of diversity to the ideal team. Larry Quinlan, chief information officer of Deloitte, calls this new, less divisive grouping of fields STEAM—wherein A stands for Arts.
For both employers and candidates, this new attitude towards hiring opens up a whole new realm of exciting opportunities for personal and company growth.