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Industry Experience in Finance – Why is it so essential?


by Abbas Alibhai , Head of Commercial Finance at Bupa Care Services Australia


 



 


Just how much weight should be put on industry experience when hiring a finance professional? This is a topic of significant debate with Australian businesses placing a lot emphasis on industry experience while many potential candidates argue that they can critically think and deliver on their objectives irrespective of the industry. But who is right?


The Benefits


Hiring a candidate with industry experience certainly would be “safer” for a business as they may hit the ground running straight away.  They may have:


  • A good grasp of Industry

  • Better understanding of customers and key drivers

  • Less training time/costs

  • The ability to settle into a role quickly

  • Less risk for an employer


The Risks


However, there can be potential risks in hiring candidates with industry experience. The candidate may


  • Have a similar skill set to the existing team

  • Not bring fresh perspective/new ideas

  • Continue to do things in the same way as before

  • Stick to what they know

  • Get bored


What is really important?


Increasingly, a candidate’s ability to critically evaluate and problem solve, their work ethic and cultural fit are arguably of greater importance. A candidate with the relevant industry experience may not have the attributes the role requires or the right cultural fit. Moreover, the right candidate, with or without industry experience will ask the right questions and challenge the status quo. A motivated candidate would gain the necessary industry experience in the first few months of their role by engaging with colleagues, doing extensive research and on the job learning.


Disregarding industry -can it work?


I have noticed having worked in the UK, that businesses don’t place as much emphasis on industry experience there as they do here in Australia.  From my own point of view, having worked in both countries and in 5 different industries, I did not find the lack of industry knowledge a challenge. In fact, it was motivating as there was an “unknown” and it meant that I tried to learn about all key concepts and drivers of the business and how they translated back to the financials. In my experience it can work but I’m not the exception to the rule.


Putting it into practice


I practice what I preach and I have built a team of 5 new Business partners with 4 members of the team not having industry experience. So far, they all have performed exceptionally well.  So what’s the key to my success?


The key attributes I looked for in hiring them were:


  • Technical ability

  • Drive

  • Motivation

  • Cultural fit


In my experience, I would argue that a candidate’s ability, motivation and cultural fit may be more beneficial in the long run, in any industry.


What is your take on the "industry experience" debate? Are you for it or against it?  I would love to hear your thoughts


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