A common opening line of a job posting reads, "Requires a bachelor's degree and a minimum of five years of work experience." A cursory study of job advertisements on various sites reveals that recruiters almost always require work experience. However, the tendency of employers to value experience over other qualifications is a mistake, argues Stefan Groschupf, the chief executive of Datameer.
In a Wall Street Journal article, Sandra Kurtzig, chairman and chief executive of the enterprise resource planning software firm Kenandy, echoes Groschupf's sentiment. When recruiting, Kurtzig eschews checklists and places limited emphasis on work experience. Instead, the chief executive probes for evidence of creativity and ability to relate well with others. That approach is particularly effective for fields that are still relatively new as computer science was in the '70s when Kurtzig founded ASK Computer Systems, now the ASK Group. Had Kurtzig insisted on years of experience when hiring, the paucity of properly qualified personnel would almost have guaranteed that the company did not get off the ground.
The same problem that Kurtzig faced in the '70s is vexing employers who need personnel skilled in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. With high demand for STEM graduates and a limited supply, many companies must hire personnel with limited or no work experience. Employers in STEM industries may have to pick a leaf from Kurtzig's hiring playbook and focus more on the personal characteristics of the people they intend to hire.
A paucity of qualified workers is not the only reason why employers should place less emphasis on work experience. Some experienced applicants may be one-hit wonders, unable to replicate previous successes in their new workplaces. This is why it is so important to probe the aptitudes and abilities of potential hires; they may have the required work experience, but they may lack the traits that would make them fit well with the company. Groschupf voices a similar opinion in an article on Entrepreneur, pointing out that the ability to navigate hitherto unseen scenarios creatively is far more valuable than extensive work experience.
Companies seeking employees with fresh insights and solutions should be particularly careful when considering past experience. Experience can be a double-edged sword, conferring capacity and knowledge while limiting vision in a manner similar to a horse's blinkers. For this reason, Groschupf advises recruiters to frame their interview questions in a way that not only reveals what applicants have done in the past, but also what they have the potential to do.
Soft skills are also invaluable, warns Groschupf. Nonexistent or poorly developed soft skills, rather than a lack of work experience, is at the root of employee failure in many companies, he cautions, which underscores the importance of these previously overlooked personal characteristics.
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