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Do job candidates with the most experience always make the best hires?

Lydia Smith
Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
Employers should strike a right balance between experience and potential. (Getty)

Recruiting a new employee is never an easy process. Not only is it time-consuming to sift through hundreds of CVs and cover letters, it can be hard to know exactly who will be a good fit. 

Conventional wisdom suggests businesses to look for skilled workers with the most – and most relevant – experience, but this isn’t all that employers should be looking for. When it comes to hiring someone new, finding someone with potential can be just as important.

Consider these two candidates. One is a chief executive officer who appears to have an impressive background and has years of experience in running a company, but struggles to adapt and adjust to an ever-changing market. Another has worked as a senior manager and lacks the relevant industry experience, but is versatile, a fast-learner and is willing to push hard to move the business forward.

“While the perception may be that hiring those with more experience would offer greater benefits to employers, that’s not always the case,” says Jennifer Seith, senior vice-president of product strategy & innovation, at global staffing firm Randstad US. “First, it’s important to note that someone’s experience level doesn’t necessarily correlate with age.

“Also, a candidate with less direct experience may have valuable skills or strengths gained through other types of experiences – maybe they’ve recently changed careers or industries, or taken a break from work to raise children, manage an illness or serve in the military, for example.”

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It’s also important to remember that a candidate with less experience in a specific role or industry may have other strengths or soft skills necessary for a job, such as communication or organisational skills.

“Employers should look for candidates with a strong base and soft skills and train them on new, hard skills required for a specific position. Focusing on learning and development programmes, developing upskilling or reskilling initiatives or offering other professional development resources and opportunities will develop talent up into their new roles, even if they’re lacking experience,” Seith adds.

Employees with less experience may also be less jaded by past work experiences or intricacies of industry knowledge, opening them up to bring in new ideas. Someone who has worked in an industry for a while may appear to be the ideal person for the job, but they may be less able to adapt to the changing work environment.

“Less direct experience can also mean they’re more malleable than employees who do have direct job experience. Not only can these employees bring a new, fresh perspective to the position, but may be open and more flexible and trainable than those with more experience, who may have their own way of doing things and less open to other ways to work,” Seith says.

There are, however, obvious positives to hiring someone with more experience. First, it may save on the time, effort and cost of training someone to ensure they can do the job.

“One of the biggest benefits to employers of hiring job candidates with more experience is that they’re able to hit the ground running. Employees with more job experience, especially if they’ve spent time in similar roles or industries, have strong foundational knowledge and can get started quickly with less hands-on training,” Seith says.

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There is less coaching up front, which means employees can get up-to-speed faster and make an impact in their position. “This comes at a time when employers are trying to hire candidates faster – using technology to do so – to fill open positions,” she adds. “If they’re comfortable with the tasks of a particular role, these employees can also bring in new ideas, processes and strategies into an organisation faster, once they’re integrated into the company.”

Also, while hiring someone with more experience doesn’t necessarily mean stronger skills or experience, it could also be an indicator of a strong leader. “Someone who can quickly onboard into a position may have additional time or desire to learn or practice management skills from a professional development standpoint,” Seith explains.