Hiring for potential vs. experience

By AIM Team
May 13, 2017

When reviewing candidates to fill job openings, employers are often faced with the dilemma of hiring for potential vs experience. Focusing too much on experience can narrow the talent pool and can cause employers to overlook a candidate’s potential.

Today, we are going talk about why employers may want to reconsider using experience as the most important factor in their hiring criteria.

What does experience really tell you?

Sure, experience can tell you what a candidate has done for other companies in the past, but it doesn’t necessarily tell you what they can do for you. Every company is different, even if they are in the same industry.

As a result, it may take a candidate a while to transition from how their former employer liked things to be done to how you like things to be done, and that can be a waste of company time. Instead, you may want to look for a candidate with a clean slate, who is willing to learn, and who learns fast.

That being said, some positions such as leadership roles do require experience, whereas entry to mid-level positions may not. Finding a balance is key.

Another article by TLNT outlines the affects of hiring on experience alone. Here are some key points we took away from it:

“Experience required” overlooks transferable skills

Putting “Experience required” in your job postings can be a catch-22; while you might deter candidates who have no qualifications whatsoever, you also might deter others who have transferable skills. Career expert Richard Nelson Bolles introduced the idea of transferable skills in his book “What Color Is Your Parachute? A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers.” These are the skills we take from job to job. Transferable skills, according to Bolles, can be broken down into three categories:

  • People (communicating, teaching, coaching and supervising)
  • Data (record keeping, researching, translating and compiling data)
  • Things (operating computers/equipment, assembling and repairing)

When looking at a job posting, job seekers look to the list of required skills and identify which ones they possess. Therefore, instead of focusing solely on previous experience doing a specific task, employers should take the time to thoroughly review a candidate and consider what transferable skills they will be bringing with them. Just because a candidate has limited experience doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of performing the duties or, more importantly, are a bad fit for your company.

Industry experience can feed innovation

Reaching into the same talent pool over and over can make a company stagnant. A candidate from a different background brings with them a new perspective. They may be able to tackle an obstacle in a new and completely different way, rather than referring to past experiences with a similar issue. Buddhists call this beginner’s mind.

Simply put, beginner’s mind refers to having an open mind, free from preconceptions and habitual responses. In business, this is often referred to as “thinking outside of the box.” Experience can be a great asset. But, if we don’t stay open to new ideas, experience can become a road block to creativity and innovative problem solving.

Expanding your company’s talent capabilities

Reaching out to candidates from different industries and backgrounds can expand your company’s capabilities. With new skills and perspectives on your teams, the potential for innovation increases. Employees that come from other industries offer fresh ideas and may even help you tap into a new market.

To tap into the many skills and perspectives, many companies are encouraging cross-training, cross-departmental meetings and other strategies to improve idea sharing. After all, you never know where the next great idea will come from.

How to hire for potential

Don’t rely so heavily on experience. Instead, ask them questions that have to do directly with your company. One way we suggest doing this is by using case studies in the interviewing process. In doing so, you can gauge how well a candidate can react to situations specific to your company.

Whether you choose to rely on experience or not is entirely up to you, but it’s important to at least consider the ups and downs of hiring on the notion of experience. Experience may be very important, but focusing too much on one element of a job seeker’s history can sometimes lead you to miss something else that’s great about that very same candidate.