When it comes to hiring, many job postings will specify a certain number of years of experience as a requirement. But is it really a good gauge of how good or relevant is the candidate to the job?

What do you hope to achieve with their experience?

Take a step back, and understand, why did you require that X number of years of experience when advertising the job. For some, it might be trying to find a “ready-made” candidate that can start doing work without much training as soon as possible. Others might seek to “buy” the experience the candidate has from industry leaders, to gather intelligence and improve their operations. Or for some, believe it or not, they require experience just because everyone else is asking for it, so they just follow the common practice.

Learning is more important than knowing

So what if someone has 10 years of experience. For all you know, for these 10 years, this person has been taking instructions from his micromanaging boss. They are basically experienced arms and legs of someone else. It is more important to find someone who learns quickly. Someone who learns at twice the speed will have 10 years of experience in merely 5 years.

To help you better visualise, the vertical axis represents “experience”, the horizontal axis represents time. Someone (red) who learns fast, but has no “experience”, will overtake someone (blue) who has 5 units of “experience” in a few years time.

Hire for potential or experience?

I’m not saying experience is bad. You don’t want to hire a clueless bloke. Just remember why in the first place did you have such a requirement. If you hope to have a “ready-made” candidate for the job, you must be dreaming. Every company is different, and expecting their old ways to fit your company from a people, process and system perspective is delusional. Besides, if you’re paying to hire someone with experience, they are likely to cost a fair bit. So at least make sure they think hard about a customised solution for you and give you your money’s worth. You wouldn’t pay $500 for a factory made one size fits all shirt, but perhaps you will for a tailor-made shirt. For candidates you hope to “collect” best practices from, you need to think of what to do with them after they have “laid” the golden egg. The can only continue to be relevant to your company if they learn, adapt and improve.

At the end of the day, it depends on the industry. Startups explore new markets and ideas first. Hence having someone flexible with a strong ability to learn will make things move faster. Besides, people with a lot of experience don’t even exist. In slow and stagnant industries, where stability is key, perhaps the experienced folks make more sense. In conclusion, what I can guarantee is that you won’t go wrong with hiring a fast learner.

Thanks for reading The Low Down (TLD), the blog by the team at Momentum Works. Got a different perspective or have a burning opinion to share? Let us know at [email protected].