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The Experience of Hiring

Posted to The Hiring Process (by on September 7, 2017

This second article in a series on the hiring process examines how experience factors in.

Thomas Montgomery

One of the things companies struggle with in hiring is deciding to hire experienced versus inexperienced people. It’s a legitimate concern, particularly if experience is important in a job. For example, if you need a doctor to operate on you, but they don’t have experience in the procedure, you certainly don’t want to be the one they train on. In this instance, experience is very important.

In hiring entry level people, experience has its advantages and disadvantages. Let’s take hiring a shipyard welder for example. You have the choice of hiring someone with several years of experience, a welding school graduate, or someone with no experience. All things being equal, you would probably hire the experienced person because they wouldn’t require as much training. Of course, that make sense, but there are other considerations.

One of the biggest considerations of requiring experience is that you restrict the available pool of applicants. Where you might have a pool of 100, you are now down to say, 25. This decreases the odds of finding the best quality people. Although a lot of it depends on how many openings you have, would your rather have 20 sharp candidates to choose from or five mediocre candidates with experience? If you’re going to make your organization a top performer, you need absolutely the best people you can find. Limiting the pool of labor reduces the opportunity to find them.  

Experienced Candidates
The next consideration is their past work experience. Where did they previously work? If it’s with a stellar company that fits with your culture, then they may be a good fit for your company – maybe. If they are no longer employed with that company, there is a reason. So, why did they resign or were they terminated? The reason and frequency a person leaves a company can be a red flag of “baggage,” particularly if there’s a pattern.

“Baggage” refers to work habits that are incompatible with your operation, and because these habits have been so engrained, they are also difficult to change. While this is not true of all experienced workers, for a percentage of them it is. These habits may be safety shortcuts, know-it-all attitudes, poor communication skills or personalities that don’t mesh with the team. While these types of issues can usually be discerned during the interview process (if you ask the right questions), experienced applicants are more adept at responding to these types of questions because of their familiarity with the job, so they know what the interviewer wants to hear. Unless you are skilled at cognitive interviewing, you can be fooled.

Inexperienced Candidates
Well then, what are the advantages of hiring inexperienced workers? Immediately you increase your applicant pool. This improves your opportunity to find the best quality worker. “Baggage” associated with some experienced workers may be present with inexperienced workers, but it’s easier to spot in an interview than it is with experienced workers. Further, with inexperienced workers, you can grow them within your organization. Because they are unfamiliar with the job, you can develop them in a manner that fits your culture, environment, and operation. Important concepts like safety, leadership and teamwork can be more easily nurtured because the employee don’t have any preconceived notions of how they think things “should be”; and because of their limited knowledge of the job, they may be more eager to learn.

So, what’s the downside of hiring an inexperienced candidate? The down side is it takes longer to train them than it would if they already had experience, but the benefits may be noteworthy. Captains, facility managers and supervisors seem to agree that because of the baggage associated with hiring experienced people, they prefer people with no experience. It’s a business decision and the best way to approach it is first, talk with your captains, mates, facility managers and supervisors. Then, consider the investment in training. You may decide that you can’t afford to hire trainees. But consider this, how much does it cost to hire an experienced worker who ends up with a work-related injury because they wouldn’t follow established safety protocals because they “know a better way” to do something? 

If you decide to hire trainees, it is extremely important to start the education process before they apply for a job. Some applicants will spend a lot of time researching a job and your company, and some simply won’t. You should assume inexperienced applicants don’t know anything about the job, so you must continue to educate them throughout the hiring process. If you have your own website, which most companies do, this is a great starting point. Videos, pictures, job descriptions and testimonials are excellent ways to inform them about the job. If you don’t have a website that affords you a way to post this material, there’s usually general information and videos available on the internet. A word of caution - be selective. There’s an assortment of quality out there, some pretty good, but a lot that’s pretty bad.

Education should continue in the interview with candid descriptions of work activities by the interviewer. Certainly, you want to highlight the benefits of working for your company, but also be very realistic about the job tasks. Don’t sugarcoat the job. If the applicant is going to wash out, you want that to happen as early as possible in the hiring process. If they bow out during the interview stage, your costs are a whole lot less than if they do it during onboarding.

By the time the new hire is ready for onboarding they should have a pretty good idea of the job, lifestyle, company culture and job expectations; but there’s one final hurdle. Onboarding requires that new hires be placed in a favorable work environment, so selecting the right supervisor and trainer is extremely important. By this time, you have some investment in a viable candidate and you should be convinced that they have potential of being a good employee. So, why blow it by pairing them up with a poor supervisor or a poor trainer? Set them up to succeed.

Experienced workers can be a benefit to the organization; they can also be a problem. Conversely, hiring inexperienced workers broadens your applicant pool and allows you to be more selective in choosing the right person(s) for your company. There are advantages and disadvantages to either approach. Ultimately, it is a decision you must make based on costs, needs and goals of your company. 

The Author
Thomas Montgomery is the President and Chief Executive Officer for Inland Rivers HR. He holds a doctorate degree in business administration and has over 30 years of Human Resources experience in industries such as telecommunications, marine transportation, education, and government. Prior to starting Inland Rivers HR, Tom was the Director of HR for the country’s largest inland marine operator.