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Should You Tap Into the Outsider Talent Pool?

Tapping into the “outsider” talent pool can be an effective tactic for combating organizational stagnancy and reliance on isolated professional networks. Including such outsiders in your staffing mix can help ensure your organization has the fresh perspectives and competitive skill sets it needs to remain vital.

By Rebecca Hawk

Like all enterprises, associations have a number of talent pools they can tap into; however a survey of association job postings reveals a common requirement: “Must have three to five years of experience working at an association or not-for-profit organization.” To candidates who are new to the workforce or are coming from other sectors or industries – a.k.a. outsiders – that sounds a lot like, “Don’t even try.”

For a high-level management or executive position, filtering out the “outside” candidates often makes sense. A CEO is well served by extensive experience in the association world, as he or she must be familiar with volunteer leadership structure, specific financial regulations, and various membership models. For specialist positions, however—like marketing, IT, and PR roles, among others—considering a wider range of candidates with diverse backgrounds and experiences makes good sense.

Like most for-profit companies, associations are contending with new competition and a rapid pace of change. In the face of these challenges, they must figure out how to become more dynamic, innovative organizations. Adding people from the outsider talent pool into your staffing mix is one way to accomplish this imperative.

If your organization is changing the way it does business—and it likely is—you’ll need to “reset” the values and mindsets that currently drive your organizational culture.

At first, a new hire with no association experience might seem like a headache: She’ll require extra training; in-depth explanations about the sector as a whole, in addition to a thorough history of your own organization; and an often-steep learning curve. But the benefits outsider hires bring can outweigh the additional training requirements.

They expand your network. With an “outsider” hire comes an “outside” network. Your organization will gain access to new resources and knowledge, and your new hire will act as an advocate for the association sector.

They have a unique perspective on what your members want. Outsider hires with relevant experience may well have been your target members or customers at one point, and they will bring new insights on and perceptions of your organization’s customer service and offerings.

They help make your organization more nimble. When your staff includes diverse experiences and skill sets, your organization becomes more adaptable. As industry disruption becomes increasingly normal, you’ll find that long-term strategic growth requires new perspectives and varied skills.

They can make important contributions to organizational culture. If your organization is changing the way it does business—and it likely is—you’ll need to “reset” the values and mindsets that currently drive your organizational culture. This process can be easier when there are employees in the mix who don’t have a lot of preconceived notions about how things should be done, and can offer insights either because they are new to the workforce or because they come from other sectors or industries and can speak to the benefits of alternative approaches.

Association experience is valuable. Hiring from the “insider” talent pool, as well as investing in the professional development of existing staff, are important keys to organizational success. However, as you seek to create the workforce that will successfully carry your organization forward, consider revamping your job descriptions. With some simple rewrites, you can make it clear that you are open to hearing from a wide variety of candidates and avoid shutting the door on candidates whose experience—while not necessarily directly applicable—may be highly relevant to the work your organization does and worth a look.

Rebecca Hawk is the marketing specialist for Association CareerHQ at ASAE Business Services, Inc.
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