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Is Experience Necessary?

July 31, 2014

Let me start by saying that if I ever need to have brain surgery I would want it done by the best brain surgeon I could find.  By “best” I mean that the surgeon has proven time and again that he/she can do the job successfully with positive outcomes.  However, a brain surgeon is more the exception rather than the rule.  There are a significant percentage of jobs where past experience is not necessary.  For example, most entry-level retail job openings look for positive and motivated people who like working with customers.  You don’t actually need that experience.185609341

However, a review of Indeed.com in the Pittsburgh region had 21,185 job postings.  But, only 738 (or 3.4%) of those jobs were listed as “No Experience Necessary”.  Additionally, most of these jobs were entry-level type roles.  Why are all of these jobs requiring experience? 

I think this speaks to a fundamental misunderstanding of what predicts success.  I certainly don’t fault hiring managers for relying so heavily on past experience.  All other variables being equal I would also choose in favor of the candidate who has had similar experiences in a past job. On the other hand, all other variables are not equal and past experience in a similar situation doesn’t necessarily mean the candidate performed well in that past role. 

What we should be focused on are the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for successful job performance.  For example, if I need to hire an administrative assistant I would like to find a person who has high attention to detail, is generally positive, a team player, and takes initiative to get work done quickly.  The candidate who possesses these skills will always outperform a candidate who needs development in one or more of these areas – even if the candidate with developmental needs has had previous experience in a similar role.  I challenge all hiring managers and HR practitioners to review their job posting to see if past experience is truly necessary.  You might just find that there is a huge untapped applicant pool that possesses the skills and abilities you are looking for in your next job opening. 

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Paul Glatzhofer Paul Glatzhofer is the VP of Talent Solutions based in the Pittsburgh office of PSI Services LLC. He works primarily with organizations that are implementing global assessment and development systems at the leadership level. Paul’s work includes leadership development, leadership skills training, coaching, leadership and executive selection, turnover and ROI analysis, and ongoing feedback development.