When do you hire for job experience vs. raw talent?

Question mark made of puzzle pieces

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I’ve been discussing the top traits I look for in job candidates – creative initiative, exceptionalism, motivation and value – but a vital and vexing question for most hiring managers is whether to hire for job experience vs. raw talent. Here’s my rule of thumb for any given position: If you are hiring someone to do something that the organization already knows how to do, then you should focus on raw talent.

Often when you are hiring, you are just adding another person to an existing function. For instance, you need another software developer to join a team of eight, and there is already a clear process and workflow in place for how their job is to be done. In a case like this, look for the most productive and talented person you can find without much consideration for experience.

It is important with these hires – even though you are adding them to an established function – that you have a culture that encourages skills development, creativity, and job advancement. Otherwise, you risk wasting and losing the talent you worked so hard to recruit in the first place.

On the other hand, if the job entails doing something the organization either doesn’t know how to do or do well, then look for someone with experience. This person will bring not only the skills needed but process and procedure as well. This is why when hiring executives and senior managers, experience becomes very important.

However, many people liken job experience with talent, which is a mistake. Having relevant experience doesn’t necessarily mean that candidate will be effective. A recent Fast Company article titled How To Hire Someone You Won’t Regret In A Month advises against the allure of hiring someone with experience: “When comparing multiple candidates for the same position, it can be tempting to give weight to the individual who has the most relevant experience. On the surface, a candidate who has worked for similar companies or competitors seems like an attractive option. The problem with this approach is that relevant experience doesn’t always equal success. It’s seductive, and it can cause you to overlook candidates who possess stronger core traits that will lead to success at the position.”

Raw talent can be molded like clay

Raw talent can be molded
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Those core traits to look for in every job candidate, such as the ones I’ve been discussing on this blog, will be more valuable in the long run than straightforward experience. In addition, I have found that it is often far easier to train an inexperienced employee than to retrain a more experienced employee, particularly if that inexperienced employee is more talented. The raw talent may create new ways of solving problems and/or develop innovative products/services that the myopia of the more experienced person might overlook.

Hiring managers often think that if they can just find someone with the right experience, that person will be able to hit the ground running and not require significant training time. Speed is of the essence. What these managers don’t realize is that their version of the “right” experience often differs from the new employee.

Frequently, there is a large mismatch when the employee, who thinks he was hired for his experience, comes in and begins doing the job in the way he is accustomed to working, only to find out that the manager wants it done his way. This is very frustrating for both. The manager feels like he is losing time every day, while the employee feels offended that his experience is being discounted.

If you hire people with experience, they will expect you to let them use that experience. It’s like the adage, “Be careful what you wish for…” Be careful about who you make a job offer to, because you just might get them and the experience (or lack of) that they will apply to the job.

This is why understanding the job requirements and hiring for a set of core traits is so important, regardless of the person’s experience. What do you think of my rule of thumb for hiring for experience vs. raw talent?


  1. Hello Joel,

    This article shed light on this issue and gave me more than a few “ah-ha” moments. This is my first time reading your blog and I am on article #2. I really enjoy the content.


  2. Thank you. Reading this article has enabled me to be more confident when applying for jobs. I should be marketing my talent! I have worked with many people who have many years of experience, but no talent. In my personal opinion, an individual who performed a job for 2 years versus one who performed it for 3 or 4 years, may have very well have benefited more and gained more knowledge from their experience, due to their dedication, diligence, enthusiasm, and passion.



  1. Top 10 posts of 2013 | The American CEO - […] When do you hire for job experience vs. raw talent? […]

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