If you know me personally, or if you have read my LinkedIn, you'll find that I have spent many years of my career in the fitness industry. I spoke with a recruiter, while completing my MBA, and I learned something important. When you attempt to transition from one industry to another, there are quite a few challenges. I am going to use what I know best, which is the fitness industry, to talk about what you get when hiring someone into your organization with a background in fitness and use that analogy to explain the benefits of cross-industry hiring.
In speaking with the aforementioned recruiter, I explained that I had been in the fitness industry for about 20 years and that I started out in operations, moved into client service (personal training and group exercise instruction), owned my own personal training business, and then had moved back into leadership positions at various larger corporations. I had worked in non-profit, not-for-profit, and for-profit entities and for government contractors as well.
Here's what he said, "so, you sold memberships then." And promptly returned his gaze to the paper in front of him (my resume) to write notes. I realized, at that moment, that I had to find a new language to express my skill set. I did sell memberships, individual and corporate memberships. But that was not the bulk of what I had done, nor was it something I had mentioned. Here are examples of positions in the fitness industry and the translatable skills the staff member has likely learned:
Front desk service member - This is the hub of the club. These staff members deal with money, multitasking, phone inquiries (for sales and other departments), assist with cleaning and special projects, retail sales, build relationships with members, and deal with unhappy customers.
Personal Trainers & Group Exercise Instructors - Personal Trainers and Group Ex Instructors are the personality of the club and are only successful if they can build relationships quickly with clients and learn what motivates them to show up. PT is usually the second largest revenue stream behind memberships. Group Ex is a key retention driver. These are your front line people. They have technical expertise, but must also learn to generate leads, close sales/get members in classes, and retain clientele. They need an engaging personality and focus on the client. They become experts in customer service.
Operations/Assistant Manager - This position does not exist everywhere, but in larger organizations, the operations (OSHA compliance, payroll, inventory, etc) may be handed off to an Assistant Manager. They are being groomed to take over the GM role and are usually hungry to learn a variety of skills.
General Manager - Regardless of the size of the company, GMs at health club facilities oversee all departments. Sometimes they have line managers below them to delegate to, but often they do not. GMs run the business as if it is their own and are responsible for meeting labor budgets, revenue targets, net revenue goals, loss prevention, front line human resources, and more. They have great problem-solving skills, can deal with emergencies and crises, and are typically very personable and motivating to their staff. And, in many cases, this is the best membership salesperson in the building.
Housekeeper/Maintenance - These staff members are responsible for one of the greatest reasons for low reviews. Gyms must be kept clean, and these amazing, hard-working staff members do that job. They don't have down time on their shift as there is always something to be done. As an example, I worked at a facility where a woman had worn off her fingerprints after many years of folding towels straight out of the driers. If you find one of these employees who had a long tenure at their previous employer, snatch them up! They are loyal and they care about doing a great job.
Childcare Worker - In a gym, these staff members are expected to quickly build relationships with children, and at the same time communicate well with parents. They are trustworthy, flexible and willing to get their hands dirty. They are caring and pay close attention to detail as they are often watching several children at once and need to notice changes to their surroundings.
Membership Sales - This title is deceiving. Membership salespeople don't just sell memberships. They are responsible for finding leads (marketing), learning what motivates people (the client's "why"), and making quick emotional connections. But there's more! They drive referrals from doing an amazing job, so the great ones stay connected with the members they sign up and make sure they are happy. There is a lot of customer service involved.
District/Area/Regional Manager - These are your multi-unit managers. They may have 2 clubs, or 18, or more! They understand industry trends, geographic variations, how to identify and coach good leaders, and (like a GM) manage their geographic area as their own and as a funnel to the corporate office. They have their hands in all revenue lines, human resources decisions, business networking and large scale marketing efforts.
Corporate Positions - The building blocks of a fitness corporation are no different than any other industry. Payroll, HR, Marketing, Finance, IT, and other departments and their employees have specialized skills that will translate across industries well. The higher level managers understand competition in the market, business strategy, and several other high-level skills.
Given the above examples, consider this when you are posting jobs. It is easy to put on a job posting that you want someone with "5+ years experience in construction materials sales", but what you really want is someone who had the right skills and is willing to learn what they are lacking. Think through whether or not you really need someone with specific industry knowledge. I would encourage you that most often, industry knowledge only applies to technical positions. Otherwise, think about the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for the position and give the opportunity to those outside of your industry to explain how they may have acquired those skills.