In my last blog post, I made the case for hiring candidates with experience for positions that require problem-solving, people management and leadership skills. And after reading a few thoughtful comments that challenged my argument, I stand by my thoughts. Truth is, those are tough lessons to learn even with experience.
But that's not to say hiring experienced employees guarantees success. I've learned over the years that hiring, like a lot of things in business, isn't black and white. As one commentator pointed out, hiring a candidate without much experience allows you to easily mold the employee to fit the role just right for your business and culture. Whenever you have a position where experience isn't necessary, training a fresh face is a great choice.
That's not the only time a lack of experience can be a boon. When my company, SurePayroll, has an opening for a position devoted to spearheading or supporting a new project, I'll often seek a candidate who hasn't done it before. Why am I willing to potentially sacrifice relevant experience? Because I don't want to hire a victim of experience.
Seasoned employees can, and often do, become victims of their experience. After years on the job, they learn that a lot of business issues can be boiled down to common problems and common solutions. That's the good part. The bad part is that solving some business problems is perplexing, time-consuming work, and people with experience will naturally shy away from the challenge.
When we look back on the big projects we've accomplished, we often remember how many hours we had to put in or fires we had to put out — and how much we never want to do it again. Those who haven't endured a difficult project tend to be excited, not reluctant, when you offer them a new challenge.
Let's say you're planning to hire a new marketing manager and you want that person to select a new email blast service and set up a series of emails to leads in your sales pipeline, often called a 'nurture campaign.' Candidate A has an impressive resume, including email marketing experience. When you ask if he's ever switched email blast services or created nurture campaigns, he answers yes and bemoans all the problem-solving and time involved.
Candidate B, on the other hand, seems qualified but doesn't have as much experience, particularly with email marketing. When you ask about her experience switching email blast services, she answers that she has none but is excited by the prospect of finding the service that will best fit your business needs. And when it comes to nurture campaigns, her previous employer already had them established, but she presents solid arguments for what they lacked and what she'd like to do with the opportunity to start from scratch. If Candidate B doesn't raise any red flags during the rest of the interview, her lack of experience can be to your advantage.
Of course, not everyone who's been on the job a long time becomes a victim of experience. A good friend of mine who's a fantastic executive always says 'I'm glad I have a short memory,' and he means it. His ability to neglect all the pain a project once caused him and move full steam ahead when it's time to do it again has kept his business thriving.
For the rest of us, forgetting all those experiences is tough. But when you're the boss, taking on new challenges that may cause some headaches is all in a day's work.
Last updated: Mar 28, 2011
MICHAEL ALTER is president of SurePayroll, America’s leading online payroll service. He received an MBA from the Harvard Business School and holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Northwestern University. @michaelalter