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Why your best hire may not be from your industry

Friday, 18 May 2012 | By Adam Franklin

It’s an interesting question, “Why would someone with no background in your industry be a great asset for your start-up?”


Tech venture capitalist Dr Geoffrey Moore, author of the marketing classic Crossing the Chasm, addressed this issue at a lecture at Stanford University.


He spoke about students in humanities and the arts finding employment in the high-tech environment of Silicon Valley and, specifically, why their fresh perspective brings tremendous value to the table.


Moore’s insights are very relevant to Australian start-ups because the employees who are your best hires may not come from “your industry”. 


The opportunity


People with backgrounds in humanities and arts will likely have strengths in areas like writing, customer service and, possibly, teaching.


If someone has taught or tutored a class at university, they’ve kind of been CEO of their own little organisation – everyone reports to them, they’ve been responsible for the group, and they are measured by their students’ results.


These skills are all very valuable to an entrepreneur running a start-up and worth seeking out.


The biggest challenge: The noun hump


If you have an intern from a non-tech background it means there’s a whole heap of lingo, acronyms, and phrases that they’ll need to learn.


Moore refers to this as the “noun hump” and the challenge is to help your student learn all these new nouns by immersing them in it, rather than sitting them in a library.


The first 10, 50 or 100 new nouns will stretch their brain, especially the acronyms like HTML, PHP, MySQL, CSS, but as you teach them the lingo, they’ll become more comfortable talking the talk.


How to attract the right people: The mentor gene


Moore suggested students look for entrepreneurs with the “mentor gene”. If you’ve got the mentor gene it means your mentality is that there’s value in teaching a keen student the ins and outs of your industry.


Initially, you’ll need to invest some of your time before you see the return, but once you’ve helped the student overcome the noun hump, you should have someone who can help your growing organisation.


At Bluewire Media we’ve certainly had great people in our team who have come from a non-web background.


If you’re up for mentoring some enthusiastic students, then the reward can be huge!