Talent Versus Experience: Which Factor Should Win Out When Deciding Who to Hire for the Job?

Hiring based on talent or experience isn’t necessarily an either-or choice. The desire to grow should be evident in both cases, says our regular HR guest blogger Robin Paggi.

Talent vs. Experience

If you’re trying to decide whether it’s better to hire people because of their natural
talent or their job experience, Googling quotes by famous people on the subject
will not give you a definitive answer. You’ll find sayings like, “I’d rather have a
lot of talent and a little experience than a lot of experience and a little talent”
(attributed to UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, who won ten NCAA national
championships) and “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented
individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work” (supposedly said by
award-winning best-selling author Stephen King).

In his article, When to Hire Raw Talent vs. Job Experience, CEO and Founder of
Khorus Software Joel Trammel said hiring based on experience is best when filling
a leadership position because, “If this person has no experience managing others, it
will be difficult for him or her to build and guide a team.” He also suggests hiring
someone with experience when you need specialized knowledge for things your
organization doesn’t know how to do or doesn’t do well. Hiring based on talent is
best for just about any other job in which the new employee will be added to others
performing the same job following clear processes and procedures.

Zane Smith, Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Kern County, said
that hiring based on talent is best for most of the positions in that organization.
When be became the ED twenty-one years ago, Smith managed seven employees
at one location. Now he is in charge of 550 employees at 63 locations throughout
Kern County and one in Barstow. Much of the Clubs’ success is due to the people
who work closely with its members, so Smith and his managers are choosy about
whom they hire. While education and experience are important, being talented
more often tips the scale in the applicant’s favor.

“Applicants for hip-hop instructor should be able to impressively ‘bust a move’ at
the interview; applicants for art instructor should be able to pick up a drawing
element and create an inspiring work of art; and, applicants for resource
development staff should be able to role play a major gift ask with finesse.
Although we value work experience when it comes to making decisions that will
directly impact our children, we tend to place a higher priority on talent that can be
developed and expanded with training,” said Smith.

According to Claudio Fernandez-Araoz, senior adviser at executive search firm
Egon Zehnder, a person’s ability to be developed and expanded through training is
called “potential” and that is what’s most important when making hiring decisions.
Author of the book, It’s Not the How or the What but the Who, Fernandez-Araoz
said in a recent Harvard Business Review article that, “organizations and their
leaders must transition to what I think of as a new era of talent spotting – one in
which our evaluations of one another are based not on brawn, brains, experience,
or competencies, but on potential.”

After spending 30 years tracking and studying the performance of executives,
Fernandez-Araoz concluded, “The question is not whether your company’s
employees and leaders have the right skills; it’s whether they have the potential to
learn new ones.”

How can you tell if someone has potential? Assess whether they are motivated,
curious, insightful, engaging, and determined during the interview process. Here’s
an important clue: “High potentials…show deep personal humility and invest in
getting better at everything they do,” said Fernandez-Araoz.

I’ve trained thousands of people over the last 20 years, and I think that wanting to
learn and improve is critical to success, regardless of the job being filled.
Experience is more important for some positions and talent for others; however,
the desire to grow must be prevalent in both cases. You can quote me on that.

Robin Paggi is the Training Coordinator at Worklogic HR.

She last wrote for us on Pets in the Workplace: Do’s and Dont’s and before that on  What We Wear at Work Matters, and before that on Too Old To Wear Jeans,  Cultural Diversity Workshops and before that Managing Five Generations at Work, before that on Accommodating Religious Beliefs and before that on Politics and Work and before that on Emojis-A Workplace Communications Menace and before that on Alcoholism and the ADA in Employment. To read her previous columns, search Paggi in the search box at the top of this home page.


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