Recently I came across a frustrated executive job seeker, who had experienced some hiring brick walls due to lack of industry experience. The job seeker in question wished to switch industry and pointed out the number of transferable skills he had obtained throughout his career – asking why executive recruiters and hiring managers are pre-occupied with experience?

Well, for an executive recruiter or headhunter, when beginning an executive search they usually outline with the hiring client exact experiences that person should have obtained up to this point in their career to be a great fit for this specific executive job (along with cultural fit etc.). The headhunter or hiring manager you have first contact with will usually have a list of experiences or competencies they wish to be filled and ask a number of questions to ensure you pass this initial test.

The problem with our job seeker was that he was unable to make it clear that his experiences are sufficient for the industry he wishes to transfer into – exactly because he (and some of the executive recruiters) were thinking in experience or skills, not experiences (situations where transferrable skills have been successfully applied).

Let me explain:

Although a hiring manager or executive recruiter looking to hire a CFO in the Media Industry may have the hope of attracting their top competitor or have an industry insider join their top ranks, in the hiring process they are likely to consider candidates from all industry backgrounds, as long as they have the specific functional experiences desired with a track record to fulfil the targets they are hoping to achieve in a new hire.

Thus, while the job description may ask for X years of industry experience or the headhunter may have pre-screening ideas for an industry expert, if you can portray your career experiences (doubling profit, cutting costs etc..) as equal or greater to the experience they are looking for, your unique industry background will begin to be seen as an asset rather than a hindrance.

So make sure you study that job description or be even better be prepared to think on your feet with not only transferable skills, but specific transferable experiences that make you ideal for the function you are trying to fill. This will include reframing / studying your resume and understanding everything you have achieved in an industry independent career trajectory.

Examples of transferable experiences:

- Set up and staffed a successful regional office in Australia, achieving net profit in 2 years.
- Managed P & L for a multi-million dollar organization.

Think of these experiences as replicable across any industry, then highlight factors specific to your industry that make you an ideal candidate compared to those on the inside. And remember, in the executive job hiring process it is your job to sell yourself in a way that it is easy to buy – being unclear, frustrated that they don’t immediately see your strengths or giving up before you start due to job descriptions, will only hinder your executive career.  

On a final note, ensure your personal marketing materials such as resume, LinkedIn / BlueSteps profile, cover letter etc., take a cross-industry ‘career highlights’ approach. BlueSteps members have access to resume examples, career transition advice from executive recruiters and free career consultations in the members area. For all senior executives (those transitioning industry or not), thinking in transferable experiences rather than experience or transferable skills will not only help you to discuss your personal achievements and brand in clear terms, but will also enable you to judge what you have achieved so far, and what ‘experiences’ are still needed to advance to that next level.


This article was written by Christian Pielow from the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC).

BlueSteps is the exclusive service of the AESC that puts senior executives on the radar screen of over 6,000 executive search professionals in over 70 countries. Be visible, and be considered for up to 50,000 opportunities handled by AESC search firms every year. Find out more at www.BlueSteps.com.


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