For Hiring Teams:
Non-traditional Backgrounds to Consider When Building your Team
Sabrina Deltoro, Founder & Recruiting Director
Delson Talent Consulting
March 21, 2023
Whether you’re hiring for the 40th sales person on your team, or the first Director of HR, look beyond traditional backgrounds when sourcing candidates. An individual's professional and educational experiences summarized into one page can’t always accurately reflect their potential as an employee. Instead of relying solely on traditional markers of success, such as a university degree or a specific industry background, look for other indicators of a candidate's skills, abilities, and potential.
Looking beyond traditional backgrounds can increase the top of your funnel with diverse candidates who bring a wealth of unique experiences, perspectives, and skills to the table. This diversity can help to foster a more inclusive and innovative workplace, and it can increase the overall talent pool from which a company can draw (once someone is hired, they can tap into their networks to introduce others to the company). By considering candidates with non-traditional backgrounds, hiring managers can access a wider range of expertise and knowledge, which can be especially valuable for companies looking to expand into new markets or sectors.
So, what are some non-traditional backgrounds you should look for when sourcing candidates?
Military experience: Military service prepares people for roles requiring leadership, teamwork, and technical expertise. Service members are trained to work under pressure, adapt to new situations, and handle complex tasks, all of which are valuable skills in the civilian workforce. The military provides a range of training and education opportunities, which can be relevant to a wide variety of roles.
Entrepreneurial experience: Entrepreneurs are often self-starters who are comfortable taking risks and handling multiple responsibilities. These skills can be especially valuable in fast-paced, rapidly changing environments. Furthermore, entrepreneurs who have successfully started and run their own businesses have likely developed a range of skills, including problem-solving, financial management, and customer service, which can be applicable to many different roles. Startup founders, highly educated social media influencers, and parent lifestyle bloggers all share the creativity and grit required to jump into a new role and start delivering.
Artistic or creative experience: The arts and creative fields often require individuals to think outside the box, solve problems creatively, and work independently. These skills can be valuable in a variety of industries, from marketing and advertising to product design and engineering. I’ve placed a classically trained professional trombone player, without prior biotech experience, into the Operations department of a rapidly growing biotech startup, and he was promoted within his first year!
Volunteer or non-profit experience: Volunteering or working in the non-profit sector can provide individuals with valuable skills and experience, such as leadership, project management, and collaboration. These positions often require individuals to be resourceful and adaptable, as they may be working with limited resources or in challenging environments. New grads may not have as much paid work experience as the majority of job descriptions require them to have, but don’t discount the value of volunteer experience.
Freelance or contract work: Candidates who have worked as freelancers or contractors may have a range of diverse experiences and skills, as they have likely worked on a variety of projects for different clients. This type of work can also demonstrate a candidate's ability to manage their own time and workload, as well as their flexibility and adaptability. Not all candidates clearly indicate contract roles on their resume, and it can be hard to explain the impact of unexpected life events on paper (whether it’s an illness, grieving a loved one, or homeschooling/parenting). Before you write off a candidate as “too jumpy,” reach out to see if they’re up for a call, so you can hear from them directly why they’ve held so many different roles.
If you are open to considering candidates with non-traditional backgrounds, you can access a wider pool of talent and expertise, and can create a more diverse and inclusive workplace. By looking beyond traditional markers of success, such as a specific industry background or a university degree, hiring managers can find candidates who bring a range of valuable skills, perspectives, and experiences to the table. It’s worth noting that you should review your job description before adjusting your sourcing, so candidates know what is clearly a must have and a nice to have, and don’t self select out of the process too soon.
“Why you should hire a musician” Undercover recruiter
“Benefits of hiring veterans” US Veterans Magazine