Avoid These Three Most Common Recruiting Missteps

Uncertainty is often described as a situation involving imperfect and/or unknown information. Within the fast moving consumer goods sector (FMCG), uncertainty is both pervasive and unavoidable. The marketplace is changing radically and rapidly. In the past, competitive advantage used to encompass concepts such as scale, brand loyalty and retail relationships. But today, FMCG companies are dealing with slowing economic recovery among the middle class, changing consumer preferences (particularly towards health, wellness and sustainability) and the proliferation of digital marketing and sales.

As a result, businesses in the sector that are intent on survival are seeking growth through both new product development and by taking a fresh approach to market.  In the past few years there has been a rush to build innovation centers of excellence to improve and accelerate outcomes from these new initiatives.  As a recent study by Deloitte University Press correctly concluded, “While business leaders focus on charting the path to sustain and grow under these conditions, we must not lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of these changes will be led by people and there are major headwinds there as well.” The study also states that “CHRO and Talent leaders need to figure out new ways to incorporate non-traditional employees into their resource model to import the skills they lack” and developing a much need culture of innovation.

The magnitude of this challenge is reflective of a trend that I, along with many peers in executive search, are experiencing firsthand. Up until a couple of years ago, clients in the sector most often asked me to identify candidates from within FMCG – and often even more narrowly from a direct competitor.  Today, hiring managers and talent acquisition leaders are intent to look outside for new employees to bring the fresh perspectives and skillsets needed to drive innovation.

However, old habits die hard and companies struggle to attract and select new employees outside of their industry – heck, many still struggle with assessing talent within their industry!   While there are multiple reasons that companies are often less than successful in hiring and keeping talent, below we discuss the three most common and dangerous missteps that I have witnessed during my many years of recruiting both inside and as a partner to FMCG clients:

  • Assuming “Best in Class” is best for you
  • Utilizing a selection process that overly weights industry experience
  • Failing to provide critical onboarding and assimilation

Missstep #1 – Assuming “Best in Class” is Best For You

I’m often asked to find what’s commonly referred to as  “best in class” talent for my clients. That’s understandable since every company wants to hire the best talent possible. However, using the label “best in class” can be problematic.   

First, we need to ask ourselves what exactly is meant by “best in class”? What types of attributes are you really referring to?  What data sources are you using to determine best in class?  So, before starting any search for “best in class talent”, take a step further to understand what the term means for you and how you would map it to the market place.  You, and the hiring managers on your team, wanting to attract great talent outside of your industry need to:

  • Do your homework.   Seasoned professionals will know their industry competitors inside and out but may not know who the players are in other sectors. While P&G is widely known in a class by itself for supply chain excellence in FMCG, do you know that McDonald’s is number #2 on Gartner’s 2015 list of the Top 25 Supply Chains?  Similarly, marquee-named companies and brands can be very alluring but do you also know that Inditex (who?!) is #5 on that same list?  A good recruiting partner can develop a solid target list of companies, including those potentially flying under the hiring manager’s radar.  
  • Practice self-awareness. Look inward and understand who your company really is. What are your strengths and weaknesses as an employer? What will attract the talent you want to join your organization and to stay for the long run? Then, set internal expectations for the caliber of talent you want to add to the bench. If, for example, you run operations at a $50 million regional coffee distributor but want to hire a VP of logistics from Amazon, you may want to think twice about the likelihood of successfully recruiting that person.  And, once you’ve decided who your class is, target your recruitment message appropriately to attract those individuals.
  • Get real and set appropriate expectations.  All organizations have aspirational business goals, which they need to balance with the reality of the work that needs to get done day-in and day-out to reach those goals. When you set out to hire someone today, realize that they are walking across your threshold to deal with immediate reality. Overselling the job, based on a vision of the future, can backfire with any new hire but even more so when making the leap from one industry to another. Apply integrity to your recruitment messaging and distinguish between what’s aspirational and what’s real and you will be more likely to retain the new talent you acquire.

Missstep #2 – Overly Weighting Industry Experience (…Despite Your Best Intentions)

While ostensibly looking for candidates who can provide fresh and innovative ideas, many hiring managers will still cling to what is familiar and end up hiring candidates whose resume looks like their own, and that of the rest of the team’s.  Singularly focusing on candidates like your current team will not likely result in breakthrough change and innovation. 

  • Focus on competencies and behaviors, not just accomplishments. This advice is not revolutionary but it bears repeating in this context.  For example, if you are in the beer industry, it can be exciting to hear about a candidate who delivered double digit growth for a new brand when the sector as a whole has been declining.  We can be quick to jump to conclusions, apply what we know about the beer industry and incorrectly fill in the gaps in the narrative based on our own experiences without really asking the questions to learn what the candidate really did (or didn’t do) to achieve these results.  When you are talking to people outside of your industry, you can’t cut corners or jump to quick conclusions.  You have to prepare, probe, truly listen and seek to understand.  What were the circumstances under which they achieved the accomplishment?  Have they done it again under different circumstances?  Did they apply what they learned in a new situation and achieve new or different results?  All too often, good candidates from other industries are overlooked or discounted because of breakdowns in the interview process or a lack of interviewer preparation.
  • Don’t let internal recruitment procedures hinder your external recruiting strategy.   If your job requisition process or internal application policy includes standard requests about specific industry requirements or overly uses industry jargon and acronyms it is likely the most desirable candidates may be dissuaded from expressing interest.  Instead, describe open positions with less emphasis on requirements and more on experience and accomplishments by painting what we call a “success profile”.  A high performer in another industry needs to easily make the connections between their strengths or interests and your job opening so they will take that important first step in your process.

Missstep #3 – Failing to Provide Effective Onboarding and Assimilation

Companies across the board, regardless of their industry, invest too little in onboarding beyond asking the new hire to complete paperwork and providing a few sessions on company culture. That falls far short of protecting your investment in new hires as witnessed by alarmingly high rates of failure estimated at 50% within the first two years for senior executives.  Proper assimilation – with coaching and on-going support to help new executives navigate the norms of your organization – is even more critical when you are hiring outside of your industry. A nominal investment of time and money will offer a return in multiple ways.


FMCG companies looking to become truly innovative need people with the spark to light the fuse of innovation. This means thinking differently about who you recruit and, for many companies, it means recruiting from non-traditional pools of talent. However, if you want to attract new types of employees, you need to change how you recruit and retain these newcomers. The process can be challenging – and costly – if not done right. But by building a cohesive external strategy, following the suggestions above and seeking guidance from consultants with the appropriate expertise, your chances of success will be greatly improved.

Allicia Hahn

About the Author

Allicia Hahn is a Partner and Client Service Operations Leader at TalentRISE, bringing more than 20 years of leadership experience with Fortune 500 corporate recruiting functions and global search firms.

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