Executive Search, Industry Experience

Why European Companies Need to Look Beyond Industry Experience When Hiring Executives in the US

At DSML, we specialize in executive recruiting for European companies doing business in the US. Our focus within executing searches is truly on solving the cross-cultural divide as companies expand into the US, not simply finding a candidate with industry experience. Industry experience is important, but at the executive level, we know that it is not the sole sign of competence, nor should it be the determining factor in selecting the ideal candidate to lead your US subsidiary.

Executive level hires are weighty, no matter the company’s size, reach, or geography. But finding the right candidate is even more crucial for companies expanding into a new territory. The hard reality is that there are significant challenges when hiring across cultures. It’s for this exact reason that DSML co-founders Myriam and Doug found their niche in recruiting for European companies expanding in the USA. The recruiting team at DSML are generalists by nature, working across industries from capital equipment to medical devices. Our mostly Chicago-based executive search recruitment team spans several nationalities: this is indispensable to successfully help our clients navigate the cross-cultural nuances they often encounter as they expand their businesses into the US. These companies must prioritize finding the right personality and cultural fit, above the right fit based on industry experience.

Industry experience is not the hiring silver bullet; it does not guarantee the success of the candidate in the position. Industry knowledge — while helpful — does not compare to emotional intelligence and social agility.

In DSML’s 15 years of experience recruiting executives for growing companies, time and time again, we’ve heard industry experience emphasized as the priority trait during onboarding calls. We believe that to find the right fit — both in knowledge and cross-cultural competence — search criteria cannot be that narrow. Especially in a candidate-driven market like today, it can be more harmful than helpful to your search, elongating the process.

For example, in a search conducted for a COO of a packaging company, our client initially requested we find an American candidate currently in packaging, who lived in California. Naturally, candidates who fit all these requirements were few and far between. After interviewing a couple of candidates, our client realized that the cultural gap with some of these candidates was too big to ensure success and they agreed to open the search in order to find the right fit: an American candidate with French roots who’d been living in the US for 20 years, willing to relocate to California, and whose background was packaging-adjacent, in selling ingredients.

Often, the result of an executive transferring industries is a certain level of humility. When engaging in a search for executive-level candidates selected to lead your US subsidiary, companies should seek curious and humble candidates above all else. These are strong behavioral queues and skill sets that are promising at a leadership level, especially. Executive-level candidates bring with them the strength of experience and all the learnings that come from it. But even at the executive level, there is always more to learn. An executive candidate from a different industry who is thirsty for knowledge is always a better fit than a candidate from the same sector who is complacent or rests on their laurels.

If your company is looking to hire executive talent for its US subsidiary, we highly recommend revisiting your current search parameters. In many positions such as general management, sales, human resources, or finance, the skill sets required are universal across industries. Do not limit your own candidate pool with antiquated experience requirements. The next generation of great leaders will need to have both technical experience and soft skills.

If your company is expanding into the US and needs to recruit for a key executive position such as CEO, COO, President, VP, or other Senior level roles, contact us.

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