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Why an experienced hire isn’t always the right choice

The author argues that recent grads to mid-level candidates can all deliver great long-term success to a company.

Why an experienced hire isn’t always the right choice
[Photo: fizkes/iStock]
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The late CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, told The New York Times in 2010, “I think if someone is self-aware, then they can always continue to grow. If they’re not self-aware, I think it’s harder for them to evolve or adapt beyond who they already are.”

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Today’s hiring process might be a little trickier than before, but Hsieh nails the ultimate goal for all companies: Can the person you hire evolve? We’ve all lived through challenging times since the start of this pandemic, but perhaps nothing has been more crucial than adaptability. Businesses across the board were forced to adjust on the fly to stay afloat. To do this, they had to rely on people who were both open and versatile.

As more and more leaders look to expand their teams this summer, I’d like to talk about the pros and cons of selecting candidates with and without experience, such as interns, new grads, and mid-level hires. However beyond this, I also want to discuss the importance of leveling the playing field when recruiting talent.

It might sound counterintuitive, but I’ve found that experience isn’t the best indicator of job performance. And researchers agree. In an interview with Harvard Business Review, professor Chad H. Van Iddekinge of Florida State University, explains that most organizations believe experience to be essential but that’s not practically the case. He writes, “unfortunately, the evidence doesn’t support the idea that applicants with more experience will be better or longer-tenured employees than those with less,” he noted.

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So what should we be looking at? While each organization will have different needs, in my opinion critically evaluating a candidate’s ability to train and integrate into company culture should take center stage.

INTERNS CAN OFFER FRESH INSIGHTS

Regardless of their relative inexperience, interns offer a fresh perspective that is invaluable. Members of Gen Z aren’t just tech-savvy and familiar with different types of devices, they’re more adept at swiftly carrying out online research and then making an impactful decision from the information at their disposal. We’ve witnessed this first hand at my tech company, where we started to welcome more than 50 interns per class, as part of our paid internship program. We’ll generally have them spend their first week in training, followed up “copiloting” with an experienced team member. During their time with us, they’ll work on their own projects (like gathering customer use cases for our mobile app), which gives myself and the staff a chance to see what their skills and work ethic look like.

However, training interns is a responsibility you shouldn’t take lightly. There are new demands, in terms of time and money. And you’ll find that some of your staff may or may not enjoy the mentoring process. What’s important is that you don’t overtax your teams with too much guidance responsibilities and have clear goals in mind for your program.

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Interns inject unparalleled enthusiasm that remains long after they return to school. By hiring them, you’ll also give yourself the chance to meet some talented people who could eventually join full-time down the road.

NEW GRADS CAN BE CULTIVATED INTO KEY PLAYERS

New grads can be a great resource for any company. Similar to interns, they have fresh ideas and aren’t afraid of putting in the work.

While many leaders look for hires with experience because they believe they’ve built up certain knowledge and traits, professor Van Iddekinge recommends that when screening new candidates, we focus instead on “the knowledge, skills, and traits directly rather than using experience or even education as a proxy.”

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A lot of this discovery will come about through your hiring process. I’ve found that I learn just as much about a candidate’s potential from their questions as I do from their answers, it gives me a sense of their innate curiosity, their ambitions, and their passion for learning. All of which can be nurtured and cultivated. But keep in mind that if your company doesn’t have the time and resources to take on training, bringing on new grads may not be right for you.

I agree with Zappos’s Hsieh in that hiring people who are open to growth and learning, and then affording them the opportunity to train, is well worth the effort. I’m proud to say that many of our new grads have become prized team members.

MID-LEVEL HIRES REQUIRE LESS INVESTMENT

From a personal standpoint, I’m a big proponent of growing elite performers in-house, but I also believe in hiring and attracting amazing talent. And there’s no better time to do that than now. As of last year, there’s been an unprecedented number of seasoned professionals looking for new opportunities; this includes mid-level hires.

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“The pool of available talent is suddenly both changing and expanding, and visionary leaders can make the most of it,” writes Claudio Fernández-Aráoz for Harvard Business Review.

Compared to interns and new grads, experienced candidates require less training; so you can save more money and time on the recruiting process. They also tend to be multi-skilled and possess a background of accomplishments that can contribute to your company’s innovation.

When it comes to mid-level hires, what I’d like to highlight is the importance of hiring along with your values. Since growing my company from a solo venture into a firm with millions of users worldwide, I’ve learned a lot about the hiring process. Regardless of experience, what takes priority is to always choose positive, collaborative people. Ultimately, there’s no amount of individual talent that will ever be worth sacrificing a positive, dynamic culture.

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Aytekin Tank is the founder of JotForm, a popular online form builder. Established in 2006, JotForm allows customizable data collection for enhanced lead generation, survey distribution, payment collections, and more.