A job candidate’s years of experience are meaningless without this other quality

You want more experience than required, but don’t stop with the resume.
You want more experience than required, but don’t stop with the resume.
Image: REUTERS/Mike Segar
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There is a lot of advice out there about hiring senior people. Some experts suggest that you shouldn’t hire overqualified people—they won’t be challenged. Others warn that you shouldn’t hire experienced people because they won’t be flexible in coming up with new approaches, while still others argue that you should hire those people for the exact same reason: a startup needs experience to show the way.

As an expert in recruiting myself (self-proclaimed mostly, but I am sure I can find others who agree), I’ll make it simple: All of the above is correct—and wrong at the same time. Not confusing anymore, right? Let me explain.

Years of experience alone is not enough to judge a candidate. Saying someone is “senior” doesn’t actually mean anything to me. It doesn’t mean they will be a good or bad hire; it doesn’t mean they can lead others; it doesn’t mean they know exactly what will work and what won’t; and it doesn’t mean they won’t be scrappy. The opposite is true as well. Just because someone is “junior” doesn’t mean they can’t add as much value as someone with more years of experience. Maybe they haven’t been put in a position to do so, or maybe they haven’t been in the right environment with the right support system in place to reach their potential.

That does not mean that experience is unimportant. You want someone on your team who has failed, pivoted, made a hard left turn—someone who has the confidence to change direction and lead through that change. Even if you are not facing these challenges today, you want to be prepared for tomorrow. Being surrounded by people with experience, more than what you believe you currently need, allows you to see around corners and blind spots.

The mistake people often make is they simply stop there—at years of experience.

As someone who has hired thousands of employees, I always hire for hunger, regardless of level. I want to hire someone who knows they don’t know everything and wants to learn, regardless of how much experience they have. They should be excited about learning from others as well as sharing their experiences. They should be willing to do whatever is needed and necessary and not worried about titles or ego. They shouldn’t be worried about whether a specific responsibility is in their job description or not. They should be focused on getting shit done. This is how you stay lean and scale at the same time; this is how you hire one person instead of two, and two people instead of four.

Get to know candidates: what motivates them, what frustrates them, what their strengths are, and what their areas of development are. Don’t just rely on what you see in a resume. Make sure you know not just what someone has accomplished, but how they did it.

Glenn Handler is general partner and co-founder at Oceans.