Hooked on Experience

By Eric J. RomeroEric J Romero

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Albert Einstein

How much experience do you have is a question that is often posed to job applicants, and lack of experience is the main reason why many applicants do not get an interview. It also prevents entrepreneurs from getting access to capital to start new businesses and current employees from being promoted. The over-reliance on experience as a selection criterion results in missed opportunities for individuals, organizations and society.

Poor Old Experience: Experience is a poor indicator of what has been learned in the past and what can be done in the future. Driving is a good example of how experience often fails to lead to learning and expertise. Many people who have been driving for years, and therefore have ample experience, are still poor drivers. The weak relationship between experience and expertise is evident in many organizations as well. Anything that you do admirably today, you at one point did not know how to do, so experience was not a valid predictor of your future success. Therefore, for the same reason, it is unreasonable to use experience indiscriminately as a selection criterion.

Organizations depend on new ideas and innovation for survival. Since innovation is by nature something new, prior experience in often irrelevant. Some of the most creative and successful entrepreneurs had no experience at all in their fields when they started their firms. For example, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream was started by two friends who knew nothing about the ice cream business. In fact, they learned how to make ice cream from a $5 correspondence course. Despite their lack of experience, they built an American icon with unique ice cream products such as Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey. Perhaps the secret of their creativity was their lack of experience based barriers to limit what they could do. If they would have applied for jobs at a mainstream ice cream producer, they would have likely been rejected due to a lack of experience. Ben and Jerry illustrate the notion that work experience is a poor measure for future creative performance. Personality characteristics and behavior patterns are far more reliable predictors.

The global economy makes change occur far more rapidly than in the past. Furthermore, change is occurring too rapidly for prior experience to be used as a selection criterion for many jobs. Even if people consistently learned the maximum possible from past experience, knowledge becomes obsolete rather quickly in a rapidly changing environment. This is particularly true at technology firms like Google, which was formed by two Stanford graduate students who had no business experience at all.

While prior experience is important for technical jobs, such as nuclear power plant engineers, or medical doctors, it is not required for many of today’s jobs. This is particularly true for jobs that require personnel to develop new products, work independently, use their knowledge in new ways, create new markets, etc. For example, Richard Branson has created numerous unrelated ventures (Virgin Record, Virgin Airway, etc.), which have made him one of the richest men in the world, despite the fact that he did not have any experience in many of these areas.

Hooked on Experience: Why does the over reliance on work experience persist? Dependence on work experience is like a crutch on which employers and financers have come to rely. It is measurable, easy to use and it has long been used as a selection tool. Since most organizations do not measure personality characteristics, skill levels or assess behavior patterns, using experience is a convenient, although often inappropriate, surrogate for more valid criteria. Additionally, using experience is often arbitrary (i.e., minimum 5 years of management experience) and helps decision makers lose cite of far more reliable predictors of success. It ignores that fact that some people learn little, even if they have a lot of experience, and other people can learn much in a short period of time. When one uses experience as a selection criterion, one assumes that everyone learns at the same rate, which is obviously false. The result is poor hiring, promotion and investment decisions and missed opportunities for individuals, organizations and society.

Just Try Something New: One may ask, what are good selection criteria for selecting unconventional thinkers who can work in a dynamic environment where personnel are expected to figure stuff out? Seeking people who are open to new ideas, have a vision similar to the company, and are comfortable with ambiguity is likely to yield better results than focusing on how much work experience applicants have or whether they have a university education.  The ability of learn quickly and adapt are particularly important.  Each organization should devise its own selection criteria and process that is matched to its culture and strategy. Keep in mind that the process you create is not static, it should be tweaked and adjusted over time. Experiment with new ideas that come from almost anywhere; movies, military, psychology, etc. Below are some general ideas that one can use as a start.

Finding and Selecting Unconventional People

  • Do no use “professional attire” during interviews and encourage people to be themselves, you want to learn about the real person in an interview

  • Have people do a creative activity as part of the selection process

  • Hire people from diverse backgrounds (music, arts, sciences, etc.), unconventional ideas will emerge from a mix of heterogonous people

  • Using psychometrics to measure personality characteristics

  • Use job previews for select candidates so you can see how they actually work

  • Hire people who are good listeners

  • Hire some people who have no education or experience, but have a lot of energy, ambition, great ideas, etc.

  • Hire people who are a little weird and wouldn’t fit in most organizations

  • Hire people who have traveled extensively or lived overseas

  • Have a debate with the candidate to see how he or she hold up to conflict

  • Hire self-motivating workers (described in the next chapter)

  • Use team interviews for people who will join a team

Summary: Kicking the hooked on experience habit is hard. As an unconventional leader, you will have to do some convincing and selling of the ideas presented here. It will take time for a company to devise a new custom designed system and to refine it.  When using an innovative selection process, you might spend much more time searching for personnel. That is the price to pay for doing things differently. For example, Google interviews are a day long affair, or more. Google is also one of the most unconventional companies in the world. A customized and innovative selection process will help you to find and select more unconventional thinkers who can help your company beat the competition.

Eric J. Romero, PhD is a speaker, consultant, and coach. He helps managers become unconventional leaders who beat the competition. Eric teaches them how to create competitive advantage based on innovation, flexibility and risk-taking. Eric has written over 20 articles and presented his ideas around the world for over 14 years. Originally from Brooklyn, his presentations are delivered with a sense of humor, 100% unedited honesty and street smarts! For more information, go to competeoutsidethebox.com.

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About editor

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan shares his passion for life and faith through words. Peter DeHaan’s website (www.peterdehaan.com) contains information and links to his blogs, newsletter, and social media pages. Peter DeHaan is the president of Peter DeHaan Publishing, Inc., (www.peterdehaanpublishing.com) the publisher and editor of Connections Magazine and AnswerStat, and editor of Article Weekly.