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Why Hiring Exclusively for Experience Doesn't Make Sense

January 17, 2014
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/230842

Five-to-seven years of Python experience; 10-plus years of .net; minimum three years of Ruby. In the software development world, nearly every job post seems to include thresholds such as these -- prerequisites intended to narrow and create a stronger applicant pool. You see it in virtually every other industry too: 10 years sales experience, five to seven years managerial.

There are flaws to this approach, namely that industries -- such as software development -- are evolving quickly. New languages crop up every day. Old ones fade. Candidates are educating themselves and practicing what's cutting edge on their own, outside the places that traditionally dole out those years of experience.

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If you have to fill a position for a project that's building on a sunsetting language, hiring for that specific need doesn't make a ton of sense. It's shortsighted, really. And it's exactly why hiring exclusively on experience doesn't make sense anymore. Instead, innovative business owners should think differently about hiring. Here are some qualities to look out for:

Attitude: It may sound cliched and perhaps over-qualitative, but an optimistic attitude is critical in making the right hire. In the software development space, we view a candidate's attitude as a reflection of the experience they want to gain and be a part of. Come in with a ravenous, "let's-get-to-work" attitude that dives into the task at hand and that tells me you share our company's ethos. Show me you're not afraid to challenge conventional thinking, and I'll challenge it with you.

It is up to the company to communicate effectively the particular attitude they seek. This is reflected in the job description, the company website, the company blog -- everything that shows who the company is. The candidates that separate themselves from the pack are the ones who pick up on these nuances, get a sense for the company's attitude and align appropriately. Make the attitude you seek discoverable by the candidate.

Commitment to release: Next on the checklist is a commitment to release or, in non-software terms, getting what you make out the door. Essentially we are looking for developers that supremely value timelines, budgets and meeting scope requirements. These are the criteria that not only push us to deliver to our clients, but are also what make us a successful company.

If you think about it, that's translatable across just about every other business. If your shop does funky custom home design, then timeline, budget and scope are key. When a close-knit team hires, it's like expanding a family -- it's only going to work if everyone is equally committed. Hire a candidate for commitment; not someone merely in search of a paycheck.

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Aptitude: Are our developers smart? Absolutely. Are we looking for specific proficiencies? Yes. Most businesses would say the same -- that they hire for intelligence. But this is the third and final checkbox because there are a lot of smart people out there. The differentiator, when it comes to aptitude, is versatility.

In most fields, being generally capable is more or less the baseline. What happens when you hire someone who is smart (with years of experience!) but isn't terribly concerned with timelines, budgets and meeting the scope requirements? And we all know the genius who knows he or she is a genius but has a less-than-desirable attitude.

The point is, your business will get to a place where hiring for aptitude is the baseline. All of your applicants will be smart. What you should be focusing on is versatility -- folks who can, for lack of a better phrase, just "figure it out" and be smart problem solvers. Those that have that insatiable commitment and that "let's get to work" attitude are who you want to focus on.

Years of experience do not equal these three criteria. It is thoroughly possible to interview a candidate with 10 years of experience who isn't interested in learning new things on the fly. (After all, they've been doing the same thing for 10 years!) If that same candidate is leading with their years of experience, perhaps that says something about their attitude?

So give it a try. In your next job post, do not include a years experience prerequisite. That will force you to focus on what you really want in your newest hire.

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