When Does Experience Matter?

A Fresh Hire Vs an Experienced Hire

Your company is poised for growth, and it’s time to start building your team. You’ve figured out the roles you need to fill and written job descriptions. Now it’s time to start interviewing candidates. But how do you assess whether a candidate is a good fit? What criteria must they meet?

Job postings usually include a required minimum number of years of experience in a similar role. But is a candidate with 5 years of experience doing similar work really more likely to excel in the role than a candidate with no experience?

According to Iowa’s Tippie College of Business Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship Chad Van Iddekinge and his colleagues, the answer is no.  Van Iddekinge and his team spent 5 years analyzing 80+ workplace studies conducted over a 60-year period to determine whether relevant work experience is a good measure of how well a candidate would perform in a new role.

Surprisingly, they found that although most companies prefer candidates with relevant experience, prior experience is not necessarily a good indicator of performance in the long term. Their findings, published in the journal Personnel Psychology, suggest that experience is not the predictor of future performance that it has long been thought to be.

As Van Iddekinge explains, “You would think prior experience would be really important. Employers always ask, ‘Does the candidate have experience?’ The idea is that experience helps people develop knowledge and skills relevant for work. But the types of experiential metrics used by many organizations generally are not valid indicators of someone’s potential and whether that person will perform well if hired.”[1] Nor is previous experience a good indicator of how long a person will stay in a role once they’re hired.  Someone who stays in the same job for years could be stagnating and not learning new things. On the other hand, someone with less experience could bring fresh perspectives and new insights to the role.

A Better Way To Build The Organization

What criteria should you use to evaluate candidates if not years of experience? .

Business executives and researchers tend to agree that curiosity, creativity, and communication skills are better predictors of performance than how much experience a person has. Leadership and business thinker David Burkus recommends designing interview questions to better assess knowledge, skills, and capabilities by asking behavioral and situational questions to gauge candidates’ problem-solving and communication skills and inviting team members to participate in the interview and decision-making process.[2]

Long-term Hires

When filling a long-term role, remember that all jobs have a learning curve—no matter how much experience you have, you still have to learn new processes and systems when you take a new role. Also, skills can be learned. Instead of years of experience, you might evaluate a candidate’s willingness to learn, transferable skills, and aptitude for solving problems.

Short-term transitional hires

However, Van Iddekinge and his team found the relationship between experience and performance strongest at the 3-month mark. By the 2-year mark, the performance of less experienced individuals converges with the performance of those with more experience. This suggests that when you need someone who can hit the ground running for a short-term project, a specific technical task, or building a business function, hiring for experience is the way to go. The knowledge a seasoned professional brings to the table in short-term (significant change management over 1-2 years) situations is invaluable.

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