Experience is Overrated

November 24, 2015

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.

-Stephen Moore

We help organizations thrive by building strong leadership teams & driving sustainable growth.

Category: Blog

Tags: advice community consulting contractor conversation creativity CSR development diversity economic downtown executive search high performers high performing organizations HR ideas interview interviewing job hunting leaders leadership learning merger news oil and gas optimum talent reading recruitment reflecting search skills stakeholder strangers talent team effectiveness training

4 thoughts on “Experience is Overrated

  1. Nobert Dube says:

    I enjoyed your article above and agree that credentials and long service alone will hardly predict future performance. I also acknowledge your suggestions that the less qualified but talented candidate may be the best in some circumstances.
    However I would argue that in the Canadian Society, there is a big chuck of undercurrents that are at play when it comes to getting a job. For example most immigrants and visible minorities work hard to obtain credentials because without them, they would not even stand a chance for consideration as the “less qualified and talented candidate”. They have even tried to hide some of their qualifications in an attempt to fit in your suggested bracket of the “less qualified” hoping this would raise chances fro consideration. Unfortunately this plan does not work. They then go back to their full load of qualifications and overseas experience and things get worse instead – no response, no consideration. So real at the end of the day, what should an immigrant do right to get a job that equates to their level of training and recognizes talent?

    I real agree with you that we should all focus on recruiting and developing talent, but how do we identify this talent and bring it aboard? How many organizations out there are sincerely willing to try an less known immigrant without Canadian experience, even though they could be a load of undiscovered talent, evidenced through their hard work at through universities, and the transferable skills from their overseas experience?

    In all this, my point is that immigrants and other visible minorities will not stand a chance for a job if they are in the “less qualified” bracket, even if they have experience. This should offer an explanation why immigrants and visible minorities prefer to be well qualified, even if this does not guarantee a job, because at least on a lucky day one employer may recognize the qualification and give you a chance.
    This topic needs sincere and deeper consideration by employers, recruiters and job seekers in the Canadian market. There is more at stake here Stephen. People are looking for jobs but can’t get them even if they adjust to what the market seem to call for including toning down their credentials to the average qualified candidates.
    Maybe in your next post, please offer suggestions on what immigrants and visible minorities should do right to get jobs at the same rate as everyone else?


  2. Simon Medley says:

    I couldn’t agree more.

    I have a very varied background in IT, Project Management, Project Controls, Governance, Software Sales, Consultancy and General Management. I believe that I have a lot to bring to any organization – while I might not immediately be a subject matter expert in their line of business, I have shown time and again that I can adapt, change and learn and very quickly make a difference.

    However, when I actively try to change roles I find that recruiters screen out my resume as not being relevant to the position I am interested in and even calling them directly produces no results. All of my previous positions have been based on knowing someone and either they have a position that has recently come available where I might fit or a position is adapted to take advantage of my skills and experience.

    Not only do they need to be flexible in their idea of the ideal candidate they also need to be willing to consider how the role could be adapted to make the best of the skills presented to them.

  3. Dear Stephen :
    Having been in Executive Search for almost 20 years, I very much enjoyed and agreed with your article.
    I think that real talent can’t be taught, and it makes for a big difference in the quality of hire when you pursue it, and not go for the exact type of experience.
    For us, sometimes the connecting glue from one position to another in a different sector of the economy is what the person studied.
    In Chile Industrial Engineering is a Masters level degree, with 6 or 6,5 years of study. In that sense we just placed an excutive that had a MS in Ind. Engineering as CEO for a multinational company that repairs smart cell phones for the big carriers that was doing badly, and he came from the Salmon Farming industry.
    In summary, he executed a brilliant turn around, and the company is changing it’s hiring model for CEO’s after this great experience.

  4. Steve Warren says:

    First of all, I don’t agree with the title. Experience is never overrated in real life. In fact, educational qualifications are. A person with less qualification, but years of qualification will always perform better than someone with lots of credential, but no credential. Yes, officially, credentials have a lot of value, like considering CRS score for express entry for immigrants, but experience is also a factor there. Most immigration lawyers like will agree a well balanced profile with decent credentials and experience is what will get a good CRS score and find a good job in Canada. And I can’t agree more.

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