The Housing Collective: How Hiring Managers Can Bring Talent In from Other Sectors

7 mins
Tom Neely

By Tom Neely

In this first post exploring our recent Housing Collective podcast with Sarah Jones, CEO of Anchor, we discuss advice for soon-to-be leaders moving across sectors, and how hiring managers can bring talent in from outside of the housing industry.

In the first episode of our new Housing Collective podcast, delivered in partnership with crowdfunding platform Beam, Neemar Search founder Tom Neely caught up with Sarah Jones, Chief Executive Officer of Anchor, gaining insights into her career prior to joining the housing industry and some crucial considerations that professionals ought to be addressing when they’re thinking about switching sectors or searching for progression in their professional lives.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Housing Collective podcast, the vital role that organisations such as Anchor play in ensuring access to safe and affordable shelter, or Neemar’s role as a specialist residential and social housing recruitment agency, see our recent guide to Leading with Empathy, where Tom explores the necessity of compassionate, driven leaders and executives within the social housing sector, and how a social housing recruitment agency can help these caring leaders to connect with leading organisations across the housing industry.

Making a Career Change: From Retail To Housing

Sarah joined Anchor Trust, as it was then known, as a Chief Financial Officer in 2014, following a number of senior finance roles across large, corporate, and private equity businesses in retail and wholesale. 

Despite loving her time in retail and receiving a fantastic education through her professional appointments and the mentors she encountered along the way, she notes that:

“…after many years in that space, the thread of who I was privately, and who I was in a professional capacity was stretched… I was very good at what I did… and I wanted to move into a role and a sector that was more aligned with my values and what I hold to be true and important.”

Understandably, Sarah encountered some challenges when she was making a career change into the housing industry in her role with Anchor. Making a career change is never simple, but moving from the private sector to the not-for-profit space presents its own roadblocks. 

Whilst she identifies that there are many crossovers between retail and the housing and care sector, which are both industries focused closely on embedding brand principles and high-quality service in everything they do—helping to foster a sense of collective endeavour across a disparate workforce—Sarah also recognised the profound differences between the two fields when she came to search for a role within the industry. 

These initial challenges notwithstanding, Sarah’s determination to align her professional goals with her personal values led her to embark on this career change into the housing industry, which eventually allowed her to become the CEO of the largest operator of social housing for over 55s within the UK. 

However, she notes that what made the most significant difference in her transition towards the not-for-profit industry was the government’s Emergency Budget in 2015. She comments on the level of disruption this caused within the housing industry, which allowed her to reflect on her position within the organisation, and to challenge established ways of working within the not-for-profit space. 

Beyond this difficult, albeit serendipitous historical moment, Sarah’s advice for executives looking at making a career change into the housing industry is sound:

“If you’ve been in a sector where your sole purpose has been to drive shareholder value or to achieve an exit multiple… you’ll come into this sector, and it’s going to feel much harder. You have multiple challenges and multiple ambitions which can often feel like they’re coming into conflict. Make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.”

This conviction and belief in the goals of Anchor meant that the board saw that she was the right professional for the role of CEO in August 2022.

Discovering and Attracting Talent from Other Sectors

So, what strategies can Sarah’s story offer to hiring managers that are struggling to attract talent into their executive and C-suite roles?

It’s clear that broadening your search to other sectors beyond the housing industry is one of the first approaches to take when it comes to attracting talented and motivated leaders. Bringing in professionals from diverse backgrounds in other commercially-focused sectors such as retail, wholesale, or private equity can help to inject fresh ideas into an industry such as housing which is often focused on tradition and pedigree. 

In this case, hiring managers should be concerned with finding those transferable skills and experiences that will translate well to a senior role within a housing organisation. Whilst there are certainly differences between industries, many skills—such as leadership nous, strategic planning, financial acumen, and change management—are valuable in all areas of housing, from not-for-profits to private enterprises. 

It’s important that hiring managers emphasise the importance of aligning personal values with their organisational mission when they’re interviewing candidates that are considering a transition from a sector outside of the housing industry. Candidates for leadership roles that demonstrate a genuine commitment to the values and goals of the housing industry, particularly within the not-for-profit sector, are much more likely to thrive and contribute positively to business success in the same way that Sarah has. 

Whilst candidates at this level of seniority won’t typically require training on the ins-and-outs of their daily responsibilities, it’s still important that organisations looking to hire a new leader provide support as they make the transition, whether that’s a tailored programme for new employees, mentorship opportunities, or housing sector-specific training that can help to facilitate a smooth onboarding experience, reducing the risk of a bad hire and enhancing that leader’s effectiveness in their new role. 

Alongside this, hiring managers should be prepared to embrace innovation and disruption when they’re hiring from outside of the industry—indeed, by looking outside of the housing sector, hiring managers can not only address talent shortages, but also have an opportunity to introduce a new perspective on existing business practices and internal processes. Executives who have experienced disruption in their previous roles may be particularly adept at challenging established ways of working within the not-for-profit space and driving positive change. 

Sarah’s personal journey from the position of Chartered Management Accountant to CEO underscores the importance of aligning personal values with professional goals. As we’ve seen, she emphasises the importance of carefully considering your motivations before deciding to move into a leadership role within the housing industry. For executives contemplating a career change, it’s important to enter the sector with the right intentions, particularly if they’re looking at moving into the not-for-profit environment. 

Likewise, when it comes to hiring managers, Sarah’s story highlights the importance of expanding the talent pool beyond the housing industry. By considering professionals from different backgrounds and assessing for core competencies, transferable skills, and a robust and commercially-conscious vision, organisations can benefit from the expertise honed in various sectors. 

By embracing this diversity of skills and fostering the alignment of personal values with business goals, organisations within the housing industry can thrive, innovate, and evolve with exceptional leadership at the helm. 

Specialist Housing Executive Search Firm

Whether you’re a candidate making a career change or you’re a business leader searching for a seasoned expert within the housing industry, Neemar Search is here to support you.

If you’re interested in learning more about the challenges facing the housing sector or you’re searching for more leadership lessons, join the Housing Collective Newsletter for the latest expert insights.

We’re dedicated to partnering with leading not-for-profit housing associations, local authorities, arms-length management organisations (ALMOS), and for-profit enterprises to drive change within the industry through executive staffing solutions. Whether you require recruitment expertise within corporate or customer services, asset management, development, or finance, we can help you to make an impact. Contact us to learn more about our specialist hiring services within the housing industry. 

© Neemar Search 2024
Site by Venn