Almost any job ad on any job site includes a mention about the candidate’s required previous experience: “The ideal candidate will have 5 years of experience in a similar role”, “We are looking for someone with 3-5 years related experience”, “At least 7 years of experience performing similar tasks is required”, and so on.
I get it, you are looking for someone who already has an existing skills and knowledge on the role so that you don’t have to teach them everything and they can hit the ground running when they join your team. However, it can be dangerous to focus too much on a certain amount of previous experience in the same function. Here are three reasons why you should ditch that phrase from your job ads:
1) The Number of Years Tells You Nothing about the Candidate’s Real Experience
Consider this: you are looking for a Senior Recruiter with at least five years of previous experience and have two candidates for the role. One of them has six years of recruitment experience from a big multinational company. They have experience hiring different kinds of profiles and they have been performing well in their job and closing positions in a steady environment, with occasional peaks of more workload.
The other candidate has two years of related experience, from a growing startup environment. They have been in charge of recruitment to meet the growing business’s needs but also doing other HR-related tasks such as onboarding new employees, taking care of the work contracts, and organizing the weekly company happy hour. The constantly changing environment has required them to adjust their work processes and manage their time so that nothing falls through the cracks.
While your first candidate meets the requirement about the years of previous experience, your second candidate might be just as qualified, if not more qualified, for the role. Not every organization allows employees to learn at the same speed. Environments such as startups or other new projects require employees to learn quicker and to adapt to changes. This might lead them to learn the same skills quicker than if they were in a slower environment with less changes and more defined processes.
Multinationals are of course not always slow and startups are not always dynamic and fast-paced. But as this simplified example shows, the number of years really tells you nothing about the candidate’s knowledge and skills.
Instead of requiring a certain amount of experience, explain in the job ad such things as what kind environment the candidate can expect, what kind of profiles they will be hiring for, and what knowledge is expected from them. Good candidates will make sure to explain in their application the skills and experiences that are relevant to you. Later during the hiring process, you can focus more on the details of what they have done in the past, what it has required from them, and what they have learned from it.
2) Previous Experience Doesn’t Mean the Candidate Is Right for the Job
The sad truth is that all the time, everywhere, people perform jobs that are not the right fit for them. I am sure you can think of several situations for example from the past week where you interacted with a someone in a customer-facing role who was clearly not the right fit for the position and did not seem to enjoy having to talk to people.
Sometimes, people haven’t even realized themselves yet that they are not in the right position for them. They might just keep doing the job because that is what they have always done and they can do a decent job with it. If you hire someone for a role that does not fit their strengths, interests, and long-term goals, you are not doing a favor to your organization or to that person. Not even if the person could do the job. Sooner or later the employee will realize that the job is not their true calling and they will look for other opportunities. Or the lack of interest for the role will not allow the employee to reach as good results as someone who really enjoys the position and can use their strengths and skills in it.
If you hire a person whose strengths and skills fit the role, they are interested and motivated about it, and it aligns with their long-term goals, you are more likely to create a win-win situation. As you can imagine, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you are hiring the person who has the “right” number of years of experience. Rather it means that you are hiring the person who has the right competencies and motivation and who fits in your organizational culture.
An interview is often an efficient way to evaluate these in-depth but you could include a list of the required competencies already in the job ad. Also, pay attention to how the candidates demonstrate these competences as well as their motivation for the role and your organization in their resume and other application materials.
3) Motivated People Look for Growth Opportunities
Finally, requiring a certain amount of experience in a similar role is dangerous because you are likely to attract candidates who are not motivated about professional growth or new challenges.
Or, if you do hire someone hungry for growth and development, they will most likely get bored in the role rather sooner than later because they have been doing the same job for the past five years and it doesn’t challenge them anymore.
Sure, there are people who are not interested in professional growth and if there are no growth opportunities in your organization, it might be a fit.
However, if your organization is growing or changing and you need people who want to grow and learn with you, pay more attention to their potential and motivation than a certain amount of previous experience in the same role. If your organization does offer real opportunities for career development, you can explain it in the job ad. If not, then don’t try attract candidates by promising them something that will most likely not happen. Being clear and honest about the growth opportunities from the very beginning helps you avoid a mismatch between the candidate’s expectations and what you can offer them.
Requiring a certain number of years of previous experience does not mean that you are attracting the right candidates for the job. If you pay more attention to competencies, motivation, and fit to your organizational culture, you are more likely to get the right people on board.
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