what qualifications can trump experience, when job-searching?

A reader writes:

I was recently interviewed for a position in a growing organization and the interview went well. My potential employers liked me but they also told me up-front that I have the least years of experience compared to the others they have interviewed.

Nevertheless, they promised to call me to the final stage to meet with the other stakeholders, as the other two candidates will also be doing.

I must say I am certain I can do a good job, but I’d like to know what the things are that you think will count well over experience. Why would you hire the guy with the least experience?

Lots of things could make a less experienced candidate more attractive than a more experienced one. For instance, I’d often take an obviously smart and talented candidate with less experience over someone less bright but more experienced.

The same goes for sanity — and I don’t just mean that in the black-and-white sense of not being clinically insane (although I have a strong preference for candidates who are, in fact, not clinically insane), but rather in terms of being grounded, emotionally stable, able to stay calm in stressful situations, able to hear feedback without getting defensive or agitated, and able to face reality head-on.

And for a lot of jobs, I might reject a more experienced candidate who has done the work but not accomplished a whole lot beyond the basics, in favor of a less experienced candidate who has a track record of high achievement in everything she has done, as long as there’s solid reason to believe she’d do the same here.

Experience matters, of course. But it’s not the whole package.

{ 18 comments… read them below }

  1. Dave C*

    Of course it all depends, but in general I'll take the inexperienced but driven person with tons of potential over the experienced one who does a solid job but hasn't done anything remarkable.

    I once hired on experience over drive and talent once, and it was a disaster. We ended up firing the "experience" guy within a year, and thankfully the "potential" guy was still around (in a different role on the team) to step in and take the position he should have had in the first place.

  2. Anonymous*

    I might also hire a less experienced but bright and driven person for the chance to "mold" them.

    Sometimes people with experience come with a "this is the way we did it so this is the way we should do it" kind of attitude without taking the time to get to know the new organization.

  3. Anonymous*

    I'd really like to hear more about hiring the inexperienced candidate over the one with more experience. I am a grad student in librarian and information science. I am very new to the profession; however, I have a lot of transferrable experience. I want to make that case when I begin to send out resumes.

    The qualities that have been written about so far are hard to quantify – how do you write about "potential" or "drive" and "talent" ?

  4. Christine*

    I too am interested in hearing the answer to this questions in respect to a Master's degree versus a Bachelors.

  5. Kat*

    The potential candidate with transferrable skills sometimes do not carry the baggage or overinflated salary expectations of those with more experience. And may be able to offer fresh perspective and different ideas.

  6. fposte*

    I'll make the pragmatic point that less experience can mean a lower salary, and sometimes employers appreciate that budgetary advantage. That advantage, however, is not one that the candidate should be offering up!

  7. Rick Saia*

    Having the right experience is important, but when it comes to the interview, lesser-experienced candidates can win out because the hiring manager may feel more comfortable working with the person rather than the highly experienced candidate. Job seekers should prepare for this: The resume demonstrates you can do the job, but the interview goes a long way to determining if you're the right person for the job.

  8. Anonymous*

    This was such a great post! I am dealing with almost exactly the same situation, but my position would be creative. I'm now waiting to hear back after the fourth and final interview last week.

    I know that being young is an advantage in itself in a job search, in that I have no kids, no spouse and a lot more time to look for a job in the grander scheme of things than an older candidate. But it's still really hard to deal with someone interviewing you for a more than entry level position who has a child your age (in their mid to late 20's) and TELLS you they have a kid your age.

    It can be a hard hurdle to overcome and something you can't control at all.

  9. Riaz*

    There are few reasons why a candidate with lesser experience is being considered for a position when there are highly experienced people available in the job market.
    1. Salary � Lower salary will be offered to this candidate with lower experience.
    2. People who are highly experienced tend to be arrogant and hard to be controlled.
    3. A candidate with less experience will be under obligation when informed that he was selected in lieu of other well qualified candidates.

  10. JC*

    Where I work now there are a lot of workers in their 20s who are relatively new in the organization. The way it's been portrayed to me is that many workers stay there a few years, getting slightly promoted along the way, and then go on to bigger and brighter things. Several of my older co-workers mentioned to me that they expected me to work for them for a while, attend grad school, and move onto something else with the experience I had gained there (One actually said to me "We all know you don't want to be in this job forever!") Another boss told me that she didn't expect me to be experienced with the tasks at all at first. I just needed to be professional, polite, hard working, educated, and enthusiastic. Everything else would fall in place in time. I think that's because I will be molded into how they want me to do things. I'm inexperienced and so in a way that makes me easier to train. So I am perfectly happy to be there for 3-4 years as I learn as much as I can while getting my grad studies done at some point.

    Also, the younger workers are typically in assistant-based roles and get paid less, like me. We are entry level positions and know we'll work for anything we can get to pay the bills and get more experience. There is some room for advancement but the top guns are there and there to stay or simply replaced by older and more experienced workers in time. Basically younger = inexperienced = perfect and easy-to-train-and mold support roles for the company.

    So even though you have the least experience, you may be easier to train and more eager to do the "dirty work" that these more experienced workers may not want to do. You may have also displayed some type of youthful energy and enthusiasm for the position.

  11. Violet*

    although I have a strong preference for candidates who are, in fact, not clinically insane

    That's� illegal, isn't it?

  12. Ask a Manager*

    I wasn't talking about, say, depression. I was talking about actual insanity, in the legal sense. Severe pathology — psychosis! And while the ADA can indeed come into play for mental conditions, it doesn't require employers to hire people with disabilities that interfere with their ability to perform the essential functions of the position, as — for instance — psychosis often would.

  13. Joey*

    If you have less experience but more character, initiative, business savvy, tenacity, or better ability to make decisions that take the big picture into account you'll get the job. But it's your responsibility to show me those things.

  14. Ask a Manager*

    Eric, you asked, "What about advanced degrees, such as a Masters degree when only a Bachelors is required?" Depends on the job — if the master's isn't going to make a significant difference in what they achieve on the job, it wouldn't factor into my decision.

    Anonymous at 10:20 AM, you asked, "The qualities that have been written about so far are hard to quantify – how do you write about 'potential' or 'drive' and 'talent'?" I look for evidence of this in what the person has done in the past. Do they have a pattern of going above and beyond, of taking something from X to Y (where Y is greater in some way), of getting better than usual results in whatever it is that they've been involved in in the past?

  15. Anonymous*

    Experience vs. potential is a fine argument and I completely agree that I would much, much rather have someone with little experience who is driven, invested, ambitious, intelligent and motivated over someone who has a lot of experience but not that capable.

    There are a lot of experienced people out there that have been in their job or their industry for a long time that, while they have experience just based on the fact that they�ve done the job for a long time, are by no means capable. Knowledge and skills can be learned, ability and attitude can�t. I would take someone with ability and attitude over someone with knowledge any day.

    However, at the initial review stage when the recruiter or hiring manager is reviewing the hundreds of resumes and applications that were received, experience will be easier to verify. I think that is being reflected in the job postings that have been put out since the economy tanked and the job market tightened up. Companies are putting the emphasis on experience over talent because, with such high unemployment, there�s no reason to take a chance on the less experienced. Which is their loss.

  16. Alley . Mardan*

    hi, i am site manager in shell petrol. i am MBA now i want to switch my job because my major is Marketing,, what you think in which area i should try, sites and franchise jobs are least in marketing

  17. Kelly*

    This just happened to me. I had a great interview, was very interested in the position, but a few weeks later the hiring manager called me to say that “although I was the definite favorite canidate in terms of personality, work ethic and creativity,” they had decided to go with a more experienced canidate. (I’m now wondering if she was just saying that to make me feel better?) The job description asked for someone with 5 years experience, I currently have four. I understand that the person chosen may and probably is a great personality as well and just happens to have more experience and is a better fit, but it’s SO frustrating.

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