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Can we Normalize Not Requiring Industry-Specific Experience in HR Job Postings?

When hiring for an HR leadership role, many organizations default to requiring candidates to have industry-specific experience. For example, a technology firm might insist on hiring an HR leader who has previously worked in tech. However, this approach may be unnecessarily restrictive and overlook the core competencies that truly make an HR leader effective. It's time to reevaluate the emphasis on industry-specific experience and recognize that significant HR experience, adaptability, and a strong understanding of organizational dynamics are far more critical for success.

The Core of HR Expertise

At its essence, HR expertise is not tied to a specific industry. The principles of human resources—such as talent management, employee engagement, compliance, and organizational development—are universal. An HR leader's ability to develop and implement effective HR strategies, foster a positive workplace culture, and manage complex employee relations issues does not depend on the industry in which they have previously worked. Instead, it hinges on their depth of experience in HR functions and their ability to adapt to new environments.

For instance, an HR leader who has successfully managed HR operations for a large manufacturing company is likely to have developed robust skills in managing diverse teams, handling compliance issues, and implementing performance management systems. These skills are transferable to any industry, whether it be technology, healthcare, or finance. The ability to navigate the complexities of HR in a large organization is far more indicative of a candidate’s potential for success than their familiarity with a specific industry.

The Importance of Organizational Experience

When hiring an HR leader, it's crucial to consider their experience with organizations of similar size and complexity. A candidate who has managed HR for a multinational corporation will have valuable experience dealing with multiple sites, remote teams, and cross-cultural issues. This experience is vital for a technology firm with offices around the world, for example. The nuances of managing HR in a dispersed and diverse environment require a specific skill set that transcends industry boundaries.

Moreover, an HR leader with experience in large organizations will be adept at navigating the challenges that come with scale. They will understand the importance of standardized processes, the need for effective communication across different locations, and the strategies required to maintain a cohesive corporate culture. These are the skills that truly matter, regardless of the industry.

Learning the Business

One of the most compelling arguments for moving away from industry-specific experience requirements is that HR leaders can quickly learn the business. While understanding the industry is important, it is not something that takes years to grasp. A capable HR leader will immerse themselves in the business, learn the key drivers, and build relationships with business leaders to understand the nuances of the industry.

My own experience supports this view. At a large, well-known non-profit organization, my role encompassed a diverse array of responsibilities that translate seamlessly into any large, complex corporate environment. Although technically classified as a non-profit, the organization where I gained most of my experience included significant work in biomedical services, pharmaceutical manufacturing, laboratory services and research, and other supply chain functions. I also supported large, complex union environments and standard corporate functions. Additionally, my work involved aspects typically associated with non-profits, such as fundraising and volunteer management. This broad spectrum of experience allowed me to develop a solid foundation in HR principles and hone my skills in managing complex organizational structures.

When I transitioned to becoming the President and founder of Westshore HR Consulting, I was initially concerned about the diverse industries of my potential clients. However, my ability to quickly understand various business contexts and effectively support different organizations proved that the critical factor was not my familiarity with any specific industry, but my expertise in HR and my capacity to apply it in new and varied contexts. My comprehensive HR background equipped me to address a wide range of client needs, demonstrating that significant HR experience is far more valuable than industry-specific experience.

Shifting the Focus

To attract the best HR talent, organizations should shift their focus from industry-specific experience to core HR competencies and relevant organizational experience. Job postings should emphasize the importance of significant HR experience, the ability to manage complex organizational structures, and experience with multi-site or remote work environments, for example, or whatever organizational structure is applicable.

For example, instead of listing "10+ years of experience in the technology sector" as a requirement, a job posting could state, "10+ years of experience managing HR functions in large, complex organizations with multiple sites." This approach broadens the candidate pool and focuses on the skills and experiences that truly matter for the role.


Reevaluating the requirement for industry-specific experience in HR job postings is a necessary step in modernizing hiring practices. HR leaders bring invaluable expertise that is not confined to any single industry. By focusing on significant HR experience and relevant organizational dynamics, organizations can attract and retain top HR talent capable of driving success in any industry. The ability to learn the business and adapt is a hallmark of effective HR leadership, and it should be given the priority it deserves in hiring decisions.

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