The Other Side Of Experience

When interviewing candidates, most hiring managers look for specific types of experience as well as the number of years of experience a candidate possesses in those given areas. This is appropriate, and second nature to most hiring managers, recruiters and HR professionals. Experience is a candidate’s most coveted possession. It is also perceived, by many organizations, as the factor most needed to get the job done. (See my book on Hiring and Retaining Top IT Professionals. In fact, consider buying a copy from Amazon. If I can sell just a few more copies, I’ll have enough money to pay for my mother’s operation!) Make no mistake. Experience is very important. However, there is a significant downside to this one-dimensional way of looking at the world of hiring (you knew this was coming, didn’t you?) In an attempt to add depth and dimension to the hiring process, I have developed a toolkit designed for those business builders who are a part of the hiring process, called “The Other Side of Experience/Six Critical Assessment Tools for Long-Term Thinkers.” It allows you to look closely at the six characteristics mentioned below and be able to utilize the carefully designed templates to measure these characteristics in candidates, based upon interviewer’s perceptions. Consider this simple reality: When people in an organization make a hire, it is assumed they always try to make the best hire possible. I have always seen this precept as something that is simply taken for granted. This assumption is so well worn and universally accepted that we seldom stop to look at what it means, to examine it closely and question the fundamental underpinnings upon which it is constructed. So let’s stop here and see what that assumption really means. Aside from the belief that the candidate can successfully do the job, I want to see more. I work with leadership to build great and profitable organizations, with employees who are content and look forward to coming to work. Perhaps I expect a lot, but I want more for my money than that simple hire of a candidate who can do the job. As a result of that philosophy I also look for the following in all candidates:

  1. A good attitude: Someone who will add something positive to the culture as opposed to someone who will complain endlessly.
  2. Leadership capabilities: The story of the person coming from the mailroom to the corner office is more than a myth. I want to hire those who are more than mere employees. I want to hire looking to the future, because leaders emerge from diverse places and backgrounds.
  3. Productivity: It is important to know that the candidate being hired is not only capable of doing the job but will also be highly productive. The candidate should set an example for other employees and have an intelligent work ethic to go along with their experience.
  4. Good communication skills: The ability to communicate effectively is critical. We all must manage relationships ó up, down, and laterally, with individuals both inside and outside the organization. Communication is the first step to achieving this end.
  5. Potential: I need to hire candidates that hold the promise of being able to accept new challenges and embrace new opportunities. I know potential when I see it. If you have been doing this long enough, so do you.
  6. Relationships/teamwork capabilities: I do not care how good a candidate might be. Genius matters little and experience is for naught if I have to be called in to referee a war every other day. I would rather hire another candidate than enter into this nightmare. The need to work as a team player, form solid relationships, and politic wisely is critical to a successful hire.

There are two primary reasons these areas should be examined and considered carefully. First of all, whether or not you are in the business of supporting the recruiting effort or driving the entire process, if you have been around long enough you know that experience alone is not the determining factor as to the success of a new employee. We have all seen experienced employees turn out to be disastrous hires that accomplished nothing, or worse (boy, do I have some stories!). Simply stated, judging a candidate solely on experience is like buying a car based solely on the engine. It is simply too narrow to be the only factor in making the selection. Secondly, there is an interesting demographic shift that will take place over the next ten years (ten years may seem like a long time away, but for forward-thinking leaders who are building the great organizations of tomorrow, it is not). The baby boomers, all 76 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964, are going to be leaving the workplace for parts unknown as they head into the retirement years. Some may put in a few hours here and there just to keep their hand in and earn a few bucks. But for the most part, they will, as the saying goes, “leave the building.” As the baby boomers exit, they will take with them many things ó not the least of which is incalculable years of experience, untold numbers of contacts, and a collective knowledge of how to get things done. These individuals will be replaced in the workforce with a group we call Generation X. The problem here is threefold:

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  • There are only 46 million Generation X’ers coming in to replace the 76 million baby boomers who are going out. Even for the mathematically challenged, such as myself, this is problematic. It must be addressed and planned for long before reality hits.
  • Interestingly enough, the numbers do not tell the whole story. There are definitive differences in character, style, work habits, and life preference between each group. For example, baby boomers tend to live to work, while Xers tend to work to live (Xers are not overly fond of the 60-hour work week or two weeks of vacation per year. When they are at the helm, I suspect these antediluvian policies will be the first to fall).
  • There will not be that vast pool of experienced candidates to draw upon when making hires. As a result, some hires will have to come with less than ideal experience. As a result, we will have a much greater need to pass judgment on criteria other than experience.

The intention of this article is simply to introduce the concept. The next three parts of this article series will deal with explanations of two of the six characteristics above per article, including how they fit into the overall decision-making process and why it is important to measure and consider candidates on a deeper level if you desire to make better hires and build better organizations. I look forward to developing this series and hearing your feedback on the concept. Those of you who are acquainted with me know that I welcome your emails and calls till about midnight EST (just don’t call too early; I am not a morning person). I believe this is a giant step forward into new and different ways of looking at the decision-making process, and I look forward to your feedback. One last thing: ER Expo 2003 Chicago promises to be a wonderful event with some exciting and informative presentations. I know it is the last minute, but you can’t afford to miss this event. The information you bring away from this experience will make you more valuable to the organization you represent and will also increase your value as a HR/recruiting professional. Please join us. It will be a great time.

Howard Adamsky has been recruiting since 1985 and is still alive to talk about it. A consultant, writer, public speaker, and educator, he works with organizations to support their efforts to build great companies and coaches others on how to do the same. He has over 20 years' experience in identifying, developing, and implementing effective solutions for organizations struggling to recruit and retain top talent. An internationally published author, he is a regular contributor to ERE Media, a member of the Human Capital Institute's Small and Mid-Sized business panel, a Certified Internet Recruiter, and rides one of the largest production motorcycles ever built. His book, Hiring and Retaining Top IT Professionals/The Guide for Savvy Hiring Managers and Job Hunters Alike (Osborne McGraw-Hill) is in local bookstores and available online. He is also working on his second book, The 25 New Rules for Today's Recruiting Professional. See if you are so inclined for the occasional tweet. Email him at