Don’t Hire Experience, Hire Learners
A few weeks ago, the Australian Financial Review published an article discussing how Australian employers value job candidates with an MBA. The short summary is: they don’t value MBAs at all. One headhunter was quoted saying something along the lines of “most employers say that if you have to choose between getting an MBA or getting two more years of experience, you’re much better off with the experience.”
This is one of the dumbest things I have ever read. Ever.
Here’s the problem with this idea: if you get two more years of experience what are you likely to be going? You’re most likely to be doing exactly what you’re doing right now. This has no practical value at all.
Jason Fried and David Hansson make an important point about this in their book ReWork. They say:
Of course, requiring some baseline level of experience can be a good idea when hiring. It makes sense to go after candidates with six months to a year of experience. It takes that long to internalize the idioms, learn how things work, understand the relevant tools, etc. But after that, the curve flattens out. There’s surprisingly little difference between a candidate with six months of experience and one with six years. The real difference comes from the individual’s dedication, personality, and intelligence.
I’ll add one other critical factor to this – the real difference comes from peoples’ ability to learn. The problem with experience in the same job is that you stop learning. So staying in the same position that you’re currently in instead of doing an MBA, or doing anything that’s different is a problem – you’re not learning anything new.
I’ve hired a lot of people over the years, and my track record has been pretty good. Reading ReWork made me realize something – I can’t remember ever hiring someone that had a lot of experience in the job I was hiring them to do. Why? Because I’ve worked in areas that were changing. People with experience in the job had a bunch of bad habits that weren’t suited to the changing environments. It was always better to hire someone that could learn. Learners are much better equipped to deal with change.
If your industry is stable, with very little change, then you can afford to hire experience.
On the other hand, if your industry is changing, then experience is too expensive. You’re much better off hiring someone that is a skilled learner.
There are plenty of ways to identify skilled learners. They move from position to position relatively frequently (even if they’re in the same organization all the way through), the initiate things, they talk about learning when you discuss their career trajectory with them. Some of them might even take some time off from work specifically so that they can learn some new skills.
Forget experience – hire learners.
Tim Kastelle is a Lecturer in Innovation Management in the University of Queensland Business School. He blogs about innovation at the Innovation Leadership Network.
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