Stronger Habits - Pete Leibman

Executive Search for Companies
that Make the World Stronger

Why Companies Should Not Require “X” Years of Experience

Imagine that there are two external candidates (let’s call them “Tom” and “Harry”) who have applied for a VP-level position with your company. Tom and Harry each work for one of your top competitors right now, and each of them is currently a Director. However, the two men have very different levels of experience.

Tom has twenty years of total work experience, and all twenty of those years are in your industry. In comparison, Harry only has eight years of total work experience, and only four of those years are in your industry. Based on this limited information, which candidate do you think would be the better person to hire for your VP-level role?

Many people would assume that Tom would be the better selection, given that he has so much more experience than Harry. However, isn’t it curious why Tom has only reached the Director level after working in your industry for twenty years, while Harry has reached that same level in a much shorter period of time?

The “years of experience” fallacy

My career began in the professional sports industry for the NBA’s Washington Wizards. I was a member of the sales department. In my third year with the organization, I generated more revenue than every one of my peers (about 25 people). That included generating over three times as much revenue as several people who had each worked in the sports industry for more than fifteen years.

While this is just one example, this sort of situation is extremely common. In every organization and industry, there are always above-average performers with limited experience. In addition, there are always plenty of average and below-average performers with a significant amount of experience. As a result, basing job descriptions and hiring decisions on “years of experience” is completely arbitrary and a huge mistake. Many times, your company would actually be better off by hiring with someone with less experience.

Stop Requiring “X” Years of Experience

There are three primary reasons why companies should not require “x” years of experience:

  1. “Years of experience” is a completely arbitrary way to evaluate candidates. Just because someone has worked in an industry or function for a certain number of years, that doesn’t mean that he/she is a high performer or is qualified for a position. In addition, just because someone lacks a certain number of years of experience, that doesn’t mean that he/she is a low performer or is not qualified for a position. What’s more important is what someone has actually achieved during his/her career and what intangibles he/she brings to the position. None of that can be measured by merely looking at how many years of experience someone has.
  2. A “years of experience” requirement actually attracts more of the wrong candidates. In every industry, there are many average and below-average performers with a significant amount of experience. If you focus on “experience quantity” over “experience quality,” these people will be qualified for your role. When your company screens people based on how much experience they have, you will attract more of the people that you should actually want to eliminate from consideration.
  3. A “years of experience” requirement actually repels more of the right candidates. Some (not all) above-average performers will also be turned off and screened out by a “years of experience” requirement. Why penalize high performers from your industry (and high performers from other industries) merely because they lack some arbitrary number of years of experience? Some of them will actually have gotten better results in less time than people with many more years of experience.

What should you require instead of “years of experience”?

Rather than requiring a certain number of years of experience, focus on someone’s results, along with someone’s potential and intangibles. For example, if your company wants to hire a new Senior Vice President of Sales, do not require a certain number of years of experience in sales and/or in your industry. That would be arbitrary. Instead, you could require that candidates have a track record of leading sales teams that have exceeded certain revenue targets.

As another example, if your company wants to hire a new Chief Human Resources Officer, do not require a certain number of years of experience in HR and/or in your industry. Instead, you could require that candidates have a track record of exceeding certain talent acquisition and employee retention targets.   

Summary

Someone’s years of experience (in an industry or in total) does not tell the whole story. As a result, it’s a completely arbitrary way to evaluate candidates. Someone’s track record, potential, and intangibles are much more important than how long someone has worked in a certain area. Focus on “experience quality” instead of “experience quantity,” and you will attract higher-quality candidates and make better hiring decisions.

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About the author: As the Founder of Stronger Talent, Pete Leibman recruits exceptional leaders for companies that make the world stronger. Throughout his career, Pete has helped clients recruit exceptional leaders at the Board, C-Suite, Senior Vice President, Vice President, General Manager, Managing Director, and Director levels. Pete’s work has been featured on Fox News, CBS Radio, and Fortune.com, and he is the author of two books and over 150 articles on career management, healthy living, high performance, and executive recruiting.

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