Experience or Talent?

experience or talent
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When to Hire Raw Talent vs. Job Experience

Experience is a must for some jobs, but people with raw talent offer unique benefits.

You have two candidates for a position. One is experienced and knowledgeable while the other is inexperienced but talented. Which one should you hire? Making the right decision can be a source of competitive advantage for your business.

Here’s a few quick rules of thumb for when to hire for each and the pitfalls to avoid.

When to hire for experience.

If you are hiring for a leadership position. This may seem obvious, but it can be tempting to put a promising person with a stellar individual track record in a position to lead. Excelling in a management role, however, is very different from excelling as an individual contributor. If this person has no experience managing others, it will be difficult for him or her to build and guide a team.

If you need specialized knowledge. In addition to leadership positions, prioritize experience for jobs that entail doing something the organization either 1) doesn’t know how to do or 2) doesn’t currently do well. Experienced people will bring not only the skills needed but also process and procedure.

When to hire for talent.

If you are hiring for practically any other job. Often you are hiring simply to add another person to an existing function. For instance, you need another software developer to join a team of eight, and there is already a clear process and workflow in place for how the job is to be done.

In a case like this, look for the most productive and talented person you can find, without much consideration for experience. Employees with raw talent offer many advantages. They may create new ways of solving problems and/or develop innovative products or services that a more experienced person might overlook. In addition, they may be more malleable, hardworking and loyal.

Avoiding common hiring pitfalls.

Decide ahead of time whether experience or raw talent is more crucial for success in the position. If the hiring team does not understand the job requirements and how to staff it, they will waste everyone’s time interviewing the wrong people. Or worse, they will hire the wrong person for the job.

Don’t equate job experience with talent. Many people have experience being mediocre. Look for candidates with not only a track record of success, but also signs of talent that go beyond their natural abilities. Seek traits that demonstrate exceptionalism (a good way in particular to judge candidates without much work experience), creative initiative, cultural fit and job-specific motivation — in other words, the employee wants to work specifically for your company. These types of employees provide much more value in the long run.

Don’t be a resume snob. Many leaders and hiring managers tend to be overly impressed with candidates who seem to have the most amazing combination of experiences. They focus on people’s alma maters, where they’ve worked, or what titles they’ve held rather than what these candidates have actually done or their potential. Just because someone worked at a great company doesn’t mean he or she will be a great employee.

Don’t skimp on job training. Hiring managers sometimes prioritize experience, believing that the candidate will get up to speed faster and require less training. This is rarely the case. For example, lack of training becomes a problem when hiring managers approach the work differently than the new employee.

The experienced employee begins doing the job his way, only to find out that the manager — who didn’t bother to train the new employee carefully — wants it done her way. This is frustrating for both. The manager feels like she is losing time every day, while the employee believes his experience is being discounted.

Cultivate your employees. Beyond the initial training, invest in every new employee regardless of experience. Offering professional development opportunities and room for advancement will benefit everyone and help you retain your employees.

Experience is crucial in many positions but talent at all levels advances organizations. Ensure that your HR people and hiring managers aren’t just filling the minimum job requirements, but are looking for people who will help you grow.

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