When you look at postings for job advertisements, inevitably one of the criteria that employers look for is “experience.” It sounds good doesn’t it: Why not hire someone who has done the same exact job before and have them do it again for a new employer. Unfortunately, for most jobs, experience is the least important criterion to look for. Even someone’s sense of humor is more important than their experience, because their sense of humor says a lot about their personality and what they are like in a social environment. And, despite the fact that we are at work to work, the social element cannot be discounted, because we are all social beings. At the end of the day, all that experience gains for the new employer is time to get to full speed at work. But it doesn’t measure how well they’d perform once they reach full speed, how smart they are, how adaptive they are, how creative they are, how knowledgeable they are, what they’re character’s like, how they think through problems and issues, how they like to resolve conflicts and problems, how good they are at solving conflicts and problems, how they navigate through political minefields, how loyal they are, how hardworking they are, how good they are putting puzzles together, how good they are at true forecasting (vs. rearview mirror forecasting, which is what the vast majority of people do), what kind of a leader they make, how they react to emergencies and unexpected situations, how they plan and plan for contingencies, how good they are at anticipating, among many other qualities that are essential in performing the job. All that a person’s experience tells the potential employer is that they did something similar to what you want them to do. Also, inferring that any of the more important qualities are implied in the fact that someone has “experience” is suspending one’s judgment and trusting the judgment of the previous employers of the candidate. At best this is stupid and likely it is dangerous.

The question that I get constantly from people is how can you tell by looking at a resume and may be reading a cover letter who is the right candidate and who isn’t? Second, why do you assume that someone who has experience isn’t the right candidate? There are clues and hints as to who is and isn’t a good candidate on the resume and there are times when a cover letter will tell you all you need to know about the candidate. You just have to know what you’re looking for: Where did the candidate go to school, what did the candidate do for activities, what was their major, how did they lay-out their resume, what did they emphasized in their cover letter, what is their GP, where did they intern, what is their career path, how successful are they in their career, is there a rhyme and reason to their career, is there an objective that their driving to, have they continued to grow above and beyond their previous jobs? These and other indications will be key to pre-screening candidates. Then during the interview there are many questions that one can ask to ascertain the candidate’s qualifications. I’m not going to give all of my trade secrets away, but suffice it to say that I rarely get interview questions that I can’t handle or don’t feel comfortable with, including, “You have no experience, why should we hire you?” But the key to really understanding the candidate is to throw questions at them they’ve never had.

The reason why I don’t like candidates that have experience is because they typically come with bad habits, learned things that are wrong or useless, and have been picked by people that look for someone with experience. I’ve found that people who look for experience in their candidates pick people that they “like” vs. people who can do the job well and have all of the right skills to be successful, so the people they pick are a complete hit or miss, i.e., a random probability. What these people do is that they rely on previous employers to have correctly vetted the candidate and all they really do is see if the potential candidate can get along with them. This is why I look for candidates with the correct skills and not worry about their past experience.

The most important thing to note is that experience in and of itself is completely useless. And, most of the time, people with experience were hired by people who think experience is really the only thing that matters and that typically proves to be a huge mistake.

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