We are in the age of the inexperienced entrepreneur making a fortune and leading the pack. At least that's what I see in everything from The Social Network to a recent Inc. article about a 20-something New Yorker moving to Dehli because his company's website is all the rage in India.
As a small business owner, you may think that hiring someone fresh out of college – maybe even fresh out of high school – could be a good change of pace for a position that normally requires a few years of experience. After all, someone young and fresh who isn't 'bogged down' by experience may add some unique perspectives to your company.
There's some truth to this argument. And maybe you can find an entrepreneurial wunderkind who's willing to work for less pay. But, more often than not, choosing a candidate with less experience is a detriment, not an advantage, to your business. At my company, I've seen it time and time again.
Some things just can't be taught in a classroom. You can read and read all you want about great sales and customer service, but until you pick up a phone with an irate customer on the other end of the line, you don't know anything about effective conflict resolution. And it's not just customer service where experience counts — all problems boil down to the same core issues.
Experience teaches the problem-solving, people management and leadership skills that apply to all areas of business. Unfortunately, ambition and intelligence aren't enough.
Imagine your inexperienced but smart new employee is a whiz with Website design and coding, and you've given him a sizable Website project with a tight deadline. There's no way he can finish the project on time by himself. But he keeps trying because he lacks the experience to know the project requires more time and resources. He doesn't tell you until the last minute that it won't launch on time, and now you have to scramble to figure out what to do.
A website designer with five years of experience has been there and done that. She knows her limitations, and what she can accomplish. Once she's analyzed the project and created an estimated timeline, she proactively shows you that the deadline is unattainable unless certain changes are made (problem-solving). She'll offer suggestions on how to proceed (leadership) and probably start working with freelancers who can help at reasonable rates (people management).
I'm not claiming that the 21 year old who comes in for an interview sporting a hoodie and torn jeans couldn't very well be the next Mark Zuckerberg. But Zuckerberg is an outlier, and taking a chance on inexperience can lead to more headaches than it can to hip ideas that will actually help your business.
If your position will allow someone with little experience to grow and learn, great. If not, place your bets on the candidate with the experience and insight to do the job right.
MICHAEL ALTER | Columnist | President of SurePayroll
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.