How companies miss the boat on experience

The single most common requirement in a job description is industry experience.  If you don’t have banking, backup software, insurance, etc. experience, you need not apply. But in my mind, this is a BIG mistake.

Experience Matters Not (or barely)

My goal in this blog post is to explore why this is a red herring — a non-factor in most cases.  The key question is this:

Does industry experience predict future success?

In my long experience, the answer is no.  Factors such as passion, drive, listening skills and super presentation skills are vastly more important and determine real success.  People who exhibit these characteristics vastly outperform those with experience alone.

The mistake of choosing the wrong factors does not just exist in business. Even the NFL gets it wrong.

The First Pick in the Draft isn’t the Best Pick
(from the New York Times business section on Easter 2010)

It seems that even NFL general managers, with millions of dollars to spend and teams of scouts to evaluate talent — gets it wrong.  Maybe business is missing something too.

Another example is one I lived personally.  We had three salespeople under consideration to handle GE worldwide.

  • Salesrep A - handled GE for us for a long time.  Decent results.
  • Salesrep B - new to the company, but an innovative and top performer.  Virtually no experience with GE.
  • Salesrep C - handled GE for our number one competitor.

I watched all three do the job, so we have good metrics.

It was no contest.  96% of companies would have hired C — the competitor rep. 3% of companies would have selected A — our experienced salesrep.  But 1% would have taken a chance with B - the new guy without experience - but had they picked him, they would hit the ball out of the park.  It was no contest whatsoever.  B delivered at least 5X what A or C delivered.  B was yours truly, the Fearless Competitor.

How is that possible?  How does the salesperson with the least experience achieve the best results?  If experience does not predict the future any better than a coin flip, what are the right factors to evaluate talent?

Since personality traits matter more, I’d look for things like this:

  • Competitive sports - team play, competition, hard work
  • Started a business - personal initiative, drive, passion
  • Produced great content - fresh ideas, innovative
  • Good presenter - strong with CEOs, and good listener

So next time you start reviewing resumes, I hope you’ll start looking at them differently.  You’re looking for passion, drive, hustle - and not experience.

What do you think?  I’d love to hear your experiences.  We welcome comments and respond to each one in person.

What do you think? We love comments and people who share.

Jeff Ogden is President of Find New CustomersLead Generation Made Simple” Check out the online show every Friday at 11am ET, “Laugh and Learn with the Fearless Competitor.” Find New Customers is one of few lead generation companies in New York.

Find New Customers helps companies like yours (with 150 to 5,000 employees and complex products) implement lead generation programs to improve the way you find and acquire high quality sales leads using best practices in online lead generation. Quality leads matter. In fact, a recent study found that sales teams with fewer, high quality sales leads closed more than sales teams with more leads of dubious quality.

If you wish to do sales lead generation online, contact the B2B lead generation experts at Find New Customers using the form below.

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2 thoughts on “How companies miss the boat on experience

  1. Jeffery - I agree completely, and am a living example. My background is broadcast journalism, but now I find myself working in marketing at an oil and gas software company. Thankfully, they didn’t see my lack of oil and gas industry experience as a negative; instead, they saw my background as a writer/journalist as a major positive. I believe our company is ahead of the curve in this regard: we recently visited a college campus looking for recruits. Instead of only targeting those on an accounting/oil/gas/finance/software engineer track, we were looking for the best and brightest, regardless of their major. I was told to look for those with a liberal arts background, because it’s that varied experience and the desire and drive to learn new things that really determines success.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Walter, and I’m glad you found a company that looked at what success meant in the job, not where you worked. One company told me they would not look at anyone who never worked in backup software — that’s the most egregious example.

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