The most experienced job candidates aren’t always the best

Experience doesn’t always equal talent.
Experience doesn’t always equal talent.
Image: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

When I started my company nine years ago, I was a young, inexperienced founder without much capital. This defined my approach to hiring in two key ways: I hired primarily young, inexperienced (read: inexpensive) talent while I got my company off the ground, and I trusted those young employees more than many would have, since frankly, I was young and inexperienced myself.

Although at the time I made these decisions out of necessity, they ended up being among the best hires I have made. We have 200 employees now, but almost half of our leadership team is made up from the then-inexperienced people who I hired in the early days. Here is why hiring inexperienced employees ended up paying off.

Experience doesn’t always equal talent

Entrepreneurs are often under a lot of pressure to hire the most seasoned, tenured leaders they can find. There is no time to stop and teach anyone the skills needed to rise through the ranks—you have to hit your numbers, and quickly.

But just because someone looks great on paper doesn’t mean they will be the best choice for your growing business. Think of the Peter Principle—the concept that in many hierarchical corporations, employees will rise through promotions until they reach the levels of their respective incompetence.

This principle points to another important factor about experience that many overlook: It can, at times, serve as a disguise for mediocrity. If someone has served as an email marketing manager for a number of years, it may not be because they are especially strong in that role, but that they have been passed over in favor of others. Of course there are exceptions to this; circumstances outside of employees’ control can prevent upward momentum, the size of organizations and the resources available can play a role in promotion decisions. But it’s important to remember that spending many years in one position doesn’t always translate to talent.

A background in another field can be an advantage

Years of experience in any field—whether marketing or data science—can also leave employees fixated on the same processes and approaches that have worked for them in the past. Essentially, they come with a playbook, and may not be as flexible or quick to adapt in a new working environment.

If you hire people with a variety of backgrounds, even from different fields, they will bring maturity and experience from their previous roles without the baggage of years hammering the same problems in the same ways. Getting people outside of their comfort zone forces them to look at solving problems in a new light, and will bring new energy and creativity into your team.

Interviews are the tip of the iceberg

Many companies dedicate a significant amount of time and resources to complex, multi-layered interview processes, and there is no doubt that you can learn a lot about a potential candidate this way. But it’s important to remember that no matter how in-depth your interview process, it only captures a fraction of a candidate’s capabilities and potential. Six months of work within your company will tell you far more about candidates’ capabilities than any interview ever will.

Especially when we started out, I would keep my interview priorities incredibly simple: Did the candidates have some schooling relevant to the role? Did they demonstrate a good attitude? And most crucially, were they hungry to learn more and succeed? At the end of the day, that’s all you really need to get started.

Elevating young talent early will create culture heroes

When we were a small and scrappy team, we naturally leaned on each other and a practiced a “learn by doing” approach to growing the company. That has become a foundational value of our culture today, and hiring a number of young employees helped create an atmosphere of learning, nurturing and experimentation.

What’s more, the untested employees that did excel and become leaders inspired other employees and candidates by demonstrating that age or inexperience were not barriers to success. Those original success stories became “culture heroes” within our ranks, and they were better equipped to inspire that same loyalty and connection in new employees.

 Of course, every company needs to consider experience in its hiring process and can certainly benefit from leaders with years of learning under their belt. But too many entrepreneurs, especially new ones, shy away from any untested talent, whether it’s someone just starting their career or transitioning from a different industry, for fear that it might hold back their growth. Instead, I encourage leaders to think beyond credentials, embrace inexperience, and trust their instincts. You may just hire an undiscovered superstar who will make your company that much stronger.

Pini Yakuel is the founder and CEO of Optimove.