Hiring Wisdom: Should We Be Hiring For Experience, or For Attitude?

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Skim through the help wanted section of any job board and you’ll find about 95 percent of the ads have one word in common: “Starting wages based on experience” “Looking for experienced, energetic servers and kitchen staff …” “We are currently seeking an experienced office assistant …”

Why is experience so often our No. 1 hiring criteria? It’s because we assume an experienced person will require less training and be able to get up to speed faster.

The problem with this assumption is that, just because a person has done a certain type of work before, it doesn’t mean he or she is necessarily good at it or even likes doing it.

Attitude is the key differentiator

Many people fall into jobs or a career path and, over time, become skilled at them. However, when you look at the top people in any trade or profession, what sets them apart is their attitude.

Some people love to help others and make great office assistants, retail clerks, and health care workers. Some people are born optimists and are gifted with persistence and the power of persuasion; they’re great salespeople. Others have a talent for working with their hands and take pride in their work – perfect for manufacturing, assembly lines, and the building trades.

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Skills, the how to’s of any job, can be taught. Start hiring for attitude instead and you’ll have a real competitive edge.

This was originally published on Mel Kleiman’s Humetrics blog.

Mel Kleiman, CSP, is an internationally-known authority on recruiting, selecting, and hiring hourly employees. He has been the president of Humetrics since 1976 and has over 30 years of practical experience, research, consulting and professional speaking work to his credit. Contact him at mkleiman@humetrics.com.


4 Comments on “Hiring Wisdom: Should We Be Hiring For Experience, or For Attitude?

  1. It is all relative, you know. There is a huge difference between skills and knowledge. Some skills can be taught – hey, I could even train a primate to do some sensible $10-$12 / hour work reliably. Other jobs require sheer physical, psychological, and mental ability and health, knowledge, an existing know-how or expertise, and experience – and the workplace is not the right platform to get it from the get-go (unless it’s a business of education), no matter how much attitude is packing.
    There is no single recipe.

  2. “Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.” Except for people, it is one of the best predictors. That’s why we use it. Yeah, attitude’s important, too. That’s why we *also* select for that. It’s not “either/or” – it’s an “and” game.
    I think most HR Pros know this.

  3. Remember the old saying: “You can have 1 year’s experience 10 times”? People think there is a progression of learning/skill represented in “years of experience”. I would rather select people on what they can do. And granted past performance is no guarantee of future success. But I would rather “hang my hat” on past results. Also present a candidate with real current business problems and find out how they would go about solving them.

    I have seen too many people that have years of experience that I would not hire. And I would hire people with 2-3 years experience with they could show results of past work and also give me innovative and solid ideas about how they would solve a company’s real and current problems.

    “It’s what you do with what you have not what you have that counts.”

  4. In an knowledge economy, where many skills are transferable but it always take some time to adapt to a new organizational culture and team dynamic (and learn the written and unwritten policies and procedures in place), over reliance on years of experience as a criteria can lead to bringing in hires who are inflexible or could only perform in their previous organization’s dynamic. Its an indicator. You know what is also a really powerful predictor of performance? IQ. But its not used as a screening criteria for a reason.

    Right now, this years of experience factor is sidelining a lot of very bright young people (thankfully, I work in an industry that employs students still and bridges them into the workplace). It also discriminates against highly skilled and knowledgeable people who leave the workforce temporarily to recover from illness or to look after children. And, this only happens in the jobs that haven’t been traditionally professions (ie. its not as big of a barrier for teachers, doctors, lawyers, engineers in the same way as it is for the softer knowledge based professionals).

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