Experience is everything, right?

The problem with job experience is that it doesn’t reveal / explain the quality or significance of that same experience


By Kevin-James Fenech

Kevin is the founder and owner of JOB Search - jobsearch.mt and FENCI Consulting fenci.eu.

I don’t necessarily think so. Like in almost everything: it depends. ‘Job Experience’, defined as the number of years worked, the number of jobs held, tenure of each job and experience in a similar role; is important up to a certain extent and does not necessarily predict success of external recruits.

The problem with job experience is that it doesn’t reveal / explain the quality or significance of that same experience. This is precisely why we have interviews and why skilled interviewers are needed to dig deep and look beyond the experience listed in a CV.

The experience a candidate acquires from a previous job in a similar role, doesn’t necessarily predict future success in a same or a similar prospective new role. To elucidate: if the candidate was in his current or previous job surrounded by high-performing co-workers who to some extent ‘carried’ the candidate or the candidate was lucky to operate under the wings of a first-rate Head/Manager, the experience mentioned in a CV needs to be qualified, if it is to be understood properly. In addition, one also needs to evaluate the knowledge and skills and how the candidate learnt from past mistakes and developed/grew. Context and a deep understanding is everything here and this is why insightful / analytical interviewing is crucial.

Added to the above, and given the current job market (too many jobs chasing too few job seekers), let’s admit it but ‘experience’ has become a bit of a luxury or even a rare trait. One is actually and probably better-off recruiting young high-potential talent without any job experience. In such a case, my advice is to go for aptitude, problem solving skills, emotional intelligence and self-motivation. You might find it is easier to integrate this kind of talent and in the medium-term a surer way to ensure recruitment success.

I am actually starting to think that job experience is a bit passé. Just like age (too young or too old) became irrelevant in the previous decade. Skilled interviewers now-a-days look beyond experience. What really matters is the ‘fit’ of the candidate with the job opportunity on offer. The interviewer, therefore, needs to ask himself/herself: given the culture at this company; given the management style of the direct report; given the team dynamics of the recruiting department/unit; given the weaknesses or even gaps of the team; etc; what does the candidate need to be or have. This is how fit is determined and I think the focus of a good interview should be precisely this.

One also has to properly assess the personality and character of the candidate. This is more art than science and based on the instincts of (excuse the pun) an ‘experienced’ recruiter or HR interviewer. You have to ask yourself, if I am in a sticky-situation and the future of my job depends on this candidate, would I want him on my team? Can I see this candidate adapting and learning in different scenarios? Will he/she be a positive force? This is why earlier I mentioned: aptitude, problem solving skills, emotional intelligence and self-motivation. This is what you need to look at, not job experience.

Another reason why sometimes, and ironically, job experience is not a determining factor in certain circumstances is because sometimes an employer is not ready for an ‘experienced’ candidate. Sometimes as an interviewer or recruiter, you have to be honest with yourself (& the employer) and recognise that a candidate is simply too good at this moment in time. Ultimately, we are trying to ensure that the recruitment is a success for both parties: the candidate and the employer.

There is little point in only one party gaining, since eventually this will always lead to a premature end. Admittedly, not everyone sees it like I do but to my mind, one is not just looking for a good fit but long term recruitment success.  

Granted sometimes it is necessary to go for a short-term fix but this is the exception not the rule. An employer goes for a short-term solution in talent acquisition knowing the risks and costs involved and only knowingly does so because ‘needs must’. Otherwise, recruitment fails and doesn’t deliver long-term, sustainable value.

I hope I am not misunderstood. Job experience and (I would add) qualifications are necessary and a lack or absence of one or both, could mean you don’t even make it to the first interview but having relevant experience (prima face) doesn’t mean you’ll get the job. A good example, perhaps, is the recruitment of Alexis Sánchez, when the footballer moved from Arsenal to Manchester United. Clearly this highly decorated (ex-Barcelona) player had plenty of ‘experience’; experience of playing for a top European club; experience of coping with

pressure; experience of working under a demanding football coach. Yet for some reason or another, his recruitment was a complete and very expensive failure. This is precisely the point I am trying to make.

Put simply: We need to look beyond ‘job experience’ when recruiting; there is so much more that determines recruitment success and delivers sustainable value.

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