Skim any list of job postings and nearly all will expect candidates to meet an experience requirement. For example, one study of over 95,000 job listings found that 61 percent required three or more years of experience--even though those jobs were entry-level positions. (Kinda hard to have experience when you're looking for your first real job.)

Say you create a job posting for a customer service lead that says the ideal candidate will have "a minimum of five years of customer service experience."

Maybe you included an experience requirement to show you set a high bar. After all, great cultures set high bars.

More likely, you hope to find someone who can hit the ground running. Since experience at least indicates familiarity with the work involved, you want to find someone more likely to stick around.    

But experience isn't a proxy for skill. Or talent. Or attitude. Or work ethic. Or anything other than the ability to hang on to a particular job for a certain period of time. 

Sounds harsh? Not according to research. This meta-analysis of 81 different studies (h/t to Adam Grant) showed almost no correlation between experience, and job performance or turnover.

Before we look at the results, correlation indicates the degree that as one variable changes in value, another variable tends to change in a specific direction. Like taller people tending to have larger shoe sizes. Like shorter people tending to weigh less. Like more experience tending to correlate to better job performance. 

A correlation coefficient of 1.0 is a perfectly positive relationship. A 0.8 is fairly strong, a 0.6 is moderately positive, and a Blutarsky-like 0.0 indicates no relationship at all.

So with all that said: How does experience correlate to job performance and turnover?

  • Job performance: 0.06 correlation.
  • Training performance: 0.11 correlation.
  • Turnover: 0.00.

Yep. Basically, no relationship at all.

If you're wondering, "training performance" involves training people to perform tasks that, in theory, they to some degree already know how to do. Yet experience doesn't even help with that.

The study's findings line up with another study showing nearly 90 percent of new hires that failed in their first 18 months on a job failed due to problems with motivation, willingness to be coached, temperament, or emotional intelligence. A lack of technical skills--which experience should theoretically help indicate--was almost never the problem.

As Grant said, "Past experience rarely predicts future performance. What matters is past performance, and current motivation and ability."

Looking for candidates for your customer service lead job opening? What matters is what they have accomplished. Increases in net promoter scores. Increases in customer satisfaction scores. Improved call resolution rates. Lower churn rates. Higher long-term customer value.

Look for people who have shown they can (or have the potential) to deliver what you need, not people with years of experience. Because past performance matters.

And what if your opening is an entry-level position? You can train almost any skill, but it's nearly impossible to train attitude. Or enthusiasm. Or a solid work ethic. Or great interpersonal skills.

Stop requiring "experience" and focus on the traits, attributes, and skills (or the potential to learn those skills) you need. 

The past only has the potential to predict the future when you evaluate what the candidate has done.

Not how long they've done it.