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Experience is Overrated


Many job advertisers seek experience in the job as a prerequisite for qualification.  Is this a mistake or an attempted shortcut to avoid the heavy lift that comes with training a new employee?  Is experience the best answer when it comes to adding talent to your team?  With today’s transitional workforce and the great resignation upon us, are too many employers relying on experience at the expense of acquiring the best talent available?  These are loaded questions.  

On the one hand, experience is desirable for task-oriented positions like brain surgery or flying a Boeing 737.  On the other hand, even the best surgeons and pilots had a first-time solo.  Most jobs do not require experience, while others may be regulated to require expertise on the job.  I am not declaring experience alone has no value.  For example, combat experience determines someone’s ability to handle the mental demands of war.  Experience does have intrinsic value.  Are you placing too much weight on something (like experience) that may prevent you from considering the potential in others?

A recent LinkedIn poll revealed that 93% of respondents would choose a recent graduate with no experience and a great attitude over an average qualified candidate with 3-5 years of experience.  I call bull squat!   I designed the survey (yes, it was me) to hide the true nature of my inquisition.  I estimate that 93% of recent hires are the best available (yet average candidate) to perform the job during these challenging times.  Too brutal?  Stay with me.

As hiring gets closer to the front lines in a business, the value of a great attitude becomes more and more diluted.  When a company has many open positions to be filled, warm bodies become the rule, not the exception.  Employees become fillers for open positions. And occasionally, you stumble upon the talented bus driver with a fantastic attitude that everyone loves.  Unfortunately, finding great attitudes to hire is more about luck than a strategy for many companies.

[In his book Hiring for Attitude, Mark Murphy distills the research performed across 20,000 new hires to understand what makes high performers. He addresses the common misstep of hiring the most skilled candidates by showcasing the other factors contributing to recent failure. Additionally, Murphy makes a case for why attitude is the essential factor to consider when screening candidates. He provides tools for recruiters and hiring managers to create questions that will identify high performers from low performers. His research indicates that 89% of the time, an employee is a bad hire is due to attitude. As illustrated in the reasons they fail, technical competence contributes to only 11% of the failures. Everything else points to attitude.]

Experience is “the” great assumption.  By assuming someone’s previous experience indicates future success, you completely negate the impact of the current environment (your culture) on the candidate.  A friend of mine, Ryan Walter, was the top draft pick in the National Hockey League.  He says you can feel the difference in the locker room between losing and winning teams.  Each year, professional sports programs make big bets on players with no professional experience.

Let’s flip the script.  Hiring is always a gamble.  Instead of looking for 3-5 years’ experience, what if you are looking for great attitudes that can become proficient in your culture?  What if you do start hiring for attitude?  Consider the following advertisements for a white-collar and a blue-collar position.

Wanted:  Engineering majors with fantastic attitudes and little to no professional experience on the job.  Our culture is unique, and we want to help you become successful our way.  We will train you and avoid unlearning bad habits from our broken and dysfunctional competition.  Apply with us if you love to learn and desire to join a unique group of committed people.

Wanted:  Shop floor employees with outstanding attitudes and no industry experience.  To qualify, you must love to learn and work with other amazing people.  We will make you successful on our team if showing up and being challenged at work is what you seek.  Apply with us if you desire a different opportunity or a career change.  We know most of you are thinking about changing jobs anyway, so this is your not so gentle nudge to take the leap and quit your current dead-end job.

These job advertisements may seem unusual; however, they make a bold statement for a different type of candidate.  The first ad is for engineering majors, not graduates, and it implies a baseline of knowledge and aptitude but not a college degree.  You can insert accounting, nursing, or business for the term engineering.  This wording opens the door for current and remote students to apply with your company.  The second ad is for people seeking a change with a desire to learn.  It opens the door for almost anyone to consider your job opening.

Your attitude about hiring makes a difference in your success in finding people.  If you have a scarcity mindset, you think good candidates are hard to find.  If you have an abundance mindset, you know many amazing people need to learn about your opportunities.  Your problem is obscurity.  Too few people are aware of your company’s opportunity for them.  Human resource professionals may object to these ads because the focus is broad as opposed to narrow.  That is the point. A wider net increases the chances of landing a fantastic person with a positive attitude who loves to learn.

In today’s complex labor market, we must address the addiction to experience.  Why do you prefer someone who must unlearn a different organization’s culture?  A blank canvas with a winning attitude is far more desirable if you have done the work in your organization.  The root problem is your lack of infrastructure for onboarding and developing new talent.  You have not invested in formal on-the-job training systems and processes, so you attempt to rely on experience (someone else has paid for) as a substitute. 

Look for people eager to learn and be willing to change your approach to bring talent to your team.  One key hire could change everything about your business.   Battles for talent are being won and lost based on your attitude regarding hiring.  If you rely on the old, outdated approach, you will continue to get the same results.  However, if you want to win the war for talent, you must take a different approach.  Consider someone’s previous work as you would any other trait.  Make a candidate’s job history a feature they bring to the hiring conversation.  However, avoid making it a prerequisite for hire.  Remember, experience is overrated.