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Optimum Talks Blog

Experience is Overrated

by Optimum Talent

Interview rooms everywhere are filled with eager recruiters and hiring managers screening an “ideal candidate” with the perfect amount of experience for their role. You know, the been-there-done-that individual that comes from the same industry and has the identical job title. Recruiters have always put a lot of stock into candidates who come from desirable companies that have been doing a similar job for a long time. Direct experience has been the golden ticket in the job market and the candidate with the most experience always seems to get the job. However, work experience may be a poor indicator of future success. After all, not all experience is good experience. It simply means that you were there.

Credentials don’t predict success. For all we know, many years of work experience at the same company can simply mean that the individual had a bad first year and then repeated it 18 more times. Just because you did something for a long time, doesn’t mean you did it well. The experience of a proud parent of five adult children speaks very little about their parenting skills. Nor is holding a valid driver’s license for over 20 years a testament of a good driving record. Quantity of experience proves nothing and promises very little.

I am constantly advising clients to lower their emphasis on credentials and experience, and instead, focus on the talent of the individual. More often than not, the less than perfect credentialed candidate usually scores higher in areas of motivation, curiosity, insight, engagement and determination. The key to great hires is in the ability to identify natural “achievers” with a continuous track record of exceptional performance in a variety of complex situations regardless of their past experience. Look for “achiever patterns” versus “tenure patterns”. Always hire for attitude as intelligent people will learn, adapt and succeed anywhere.

Let’s face it, 10 years ago nobody had any experience running social networks, but the founders of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter seemed to have slipped into the role just fine. They have built their businesses by attracting talented individuals with much less than ideal credentials. Many of today’s most successful companies were founded and run by first time CEOs that lacked both the ideal education and experience; Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Michael Dell to name a few. Executives in the entertainment and music industry have all taken a chance on an unknown quantity of people with limited credentials. This hidden talent opportunity is also revealed regularly in professional sports when the lower draft-picks surprise everyone by becoming superstars.

Many hiring managers and recruiters have failed to fully assess the advantages and positive business impacts resulting from hiring people without extensive experience and ideal credentials. Even though there might be a small risk involved in hiring them, my experience has proven that their ROI and the returns that they produce more than justify taking a small perceived risk. Individuals that do not have enough direct working experience within your industry will serve as an asset as they have less of a history to cloud their vision. They may see problems in a new way and from a fresh perspective. You will get new answers to the same old questions and they will internally shake things up. New hires to a new industry will also take more risks, question existing practices, and think of new approaches, ideas and innovation.

We all know that diversity in the workforce really does have a positive impact on business results. I would encourage companies to broaden their definition of diversity to include people with ‘impaired’ credentials. Hire someone with less than ideal experience and qualifications and you may be surprised to find that they soon prove to be a superstar.