Avoid ruling out the best talent
By Casey Bowden Jeremy Eskenazi

Avoid ruling out the best talent

Experience isn’t everything when hiring

Many organizations use years of experience as a qualifier for jobs. It seems like second nature, but it doesn’t garner better talent. Using years of experience often is tied to a compensation range exercise and can lead to a sloppy path to your company being at risk of being accused of ageism, or worse.

Rather than use years of experience in a job posting to eliminate very junior — or senior — people, a best practice is to describe what the actual job would do. Consider the key accountabilities and indicate that these are things that the candidate needs to show you they can already do. This is not the kind of talent you want to lose out on for the sake of policy.

During your intake meeting with the hiring manager, this is a good discussion to have, and make sure to ask, “What would someone have done in those X years that would make them qualified?”

Today, we need skills that may not yet be taught in schools, new thinking in our evolving workplaces and agility to respond to customer needs quickly. No matter your industry, the skills you need today are likely very different than what you were hiring for five years ago. With this being the norm and not the exception, why are so many HR departments still so fixated on time over mastery of skills? Don’t underestimate how your company looks to candidates when they read years of experience in your job posts.

If you are staunchly committed to this qualifier for hiring and recruiting, stop now. Here are some scenarios to help you see how a small change to your hiring training can deliver big results.

Rather than use years of experience in a job posting to eliminate very junior — or senior — people, a best practice is to describe what the actual job would do.

Learning happens fast. In one year — or even less — a teenager can build a functional social media app, a scientist can have a world-changing breakthrough, and an entrepreneur can change a supply chain model. We see it often, so why wouldn’t you consider someone with two years of experience just because your job description template reads three to five years? Don’t let your templates blind you to how quickly learning and skill acquisition happens.

Prioritize accomplishments vs. time. When you or your hiring managers are discussing what is required in a new hire, what they have accomplished and could accomplish at your company matters most. Do you need someone who has managed a sales pipeline of over $1 million, organized merchandise in a specific way or learned how to interact with customers to achieve a goal? If a candidate can demonstrate that they have successfully accomplished what your company needs, then how many years they have done it for may be irrelevant for most jobs.

Using artificial barriers. Just because you have done something a certain way in the past does not mean you cannot change it. For example, many technology jobs are brand new as in there is no degree program yet, or the qualifications and skills have evolved very recently. Requiring 10-plus years of experience and a related degree will rule out the exact type of talent you really need, make your employer brand feel stuffy and could lead to age discrimination. Do not let rules that don’t make sense from the start of the candidate experience deter candidates from speaking to you or accepting your offer.

Look what I can do. If you are using behavioral interviewing, which asks candidates for specific examples of how they acted in specific employment-related situations, you can easily understand what the candidate has done or is doing now. Use your discussion with the hiring manager to understand what the candidate will need to accomplish in their first 12 months. If this list matches their résumé or interview responses, they will probably be able to do the job at your organization as well, meaning this could be a great match. If they are doing half of what you need them to do, are you willing and able to train them to learn and grow with your organization? When a candidate explains what they already are able to do, listen to them. It is the most important way to determine if they can do your role, too. If they are successful in a role, does the length of that success really matter?

While these are just a few examples, the point remains the same. If you are able to, remove the use of years of experience in your hiring and focus on what people have actually done. Asking the question of what someone can do today will give you the answer you need in what they will potentially do for you tomorrow. Training recruiters, HR and hiring managers to look for a match in skills and accomplishments will lead to more productive interviews and eventual hires for everyone. Don’t worry about trying to box someone into a compensation range based on years. If you are realistic about what the role is worth in the market you are hiring in, you will have greater speed to hire and an easier time targeting the right talent for your company.

Not yet convinced? Here is a question to consider: If your job posting qualifications currently list five to seven years of experience required and you are interviewing a fantastic candidate who has proven that he or she can accomplish 95 percent of the tasks within the role, but they only have four years of experience, what are they really missing?

Would you not hire them and continue recruiting for this role? If you are clear on what you need before you start looking for candidates, you will know if they are right in front of you. Does that one year really make a difference in what they can accomplish and bring to your team today? Don’t let the legacy of demanding a specific timeframe of experience let you miss out on top talent. Let your hiring team look for what matters most in people — their abilities today and their proven track record in what you need to be successful. 

Jeremy Eskenazi is the founder of Riviera Advisors, Long Beach, Calif., a boutique talent acquisition optimization consulting firm. Riviera Advisors does not headhunt, it specializes in recruitment training and strategy consulting, helping global HR leaders transform how they attract top talent. For more information, visit rivieraadvisors.com.

Casey BowdenCasey Bowden

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