Experience is overrated, hire talent

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Jun 03, 2019
Mel Kleiman

Through a special arrangement, what follows is an article from the blog of Humetrics.

Skim through any online job ads and you’ll find about 95 percent of them have one word in common: “Starting wages based on experience …” “Looking for experienced, energetic retail associate …” “We are currently seeking an experienced cashier …”

Why is it that experience is so often our number one criteria? Because we assume an experienced person will require less training and be able to get up to speed faster.

The problem with this assumption is that just because a person has done a certain type of work before doesn’t mean he or she is necessarily good at it or even likes doing it. Many people fall into jobs or a career path and, over time, become skilled at them. However, when you look at the top people in any trade or profession, what sets them apart is talent. It is their innate ability or internal motivation (attitude) that makes them what we call “a natural.”

Some people are motivated to help others and they make great office assistants, retail clerks and healthcare workers. Some people are born optimists and are gifted with persistence and the power of persuasion — they’re great salespeople. Others are good with their hands and enjoy making things – perfect for manufacturing, assembly lines and the building trades.

Skills — the how to’s of any job — can be taught. Start hiring for talent instead and you’ll have a real competitive edge.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you agree that experience is overrated for many retail positions? What factors are often more important in assessing a candidate’s qualifications?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Look for people who have the right personality and attitude and take the time to teach them how to actually do the job and they might stick around longer ..."
"Has anyone ever hired someone they’d consider “wise?” Would love to hear that story."
"I have been in business for more than 40 years and very early on I found that talent eats experience for breakfast, lunch and dinner."

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35 Comments on "Experience is overrated, hire talent"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

While experience can be helpful, I think a great attitude, self-motivation and willingness to learn are more important attributes. Since every retailer is unique, many of the hard skills are not easily transferable and so new employees will need to learn entirely new systems and processes — prior experience may only be nominally helpful.

Bethany Allee
BrainTrust

I 100 percent agree with Mark. Positive attitude, self-motivation, and willingness to learn are the most important qualifications when it comes to helping a dynamic customer service-oriented business succeed.

Charles Dimov
Guest

This is a great philosophical position – but in a 30-60 minute interview assessing talent is challenging. The best indicator we have of the future is past experience and performance. Ultimately, it has to be a balanced view. Look for experience where the candidate has a relevant background, then do the best you can to assess for talent. Generally, talent will come through in the experience storyline.

Other things to look for in candidates are: have they have done anything to step toward the career they want? Have they engaged in speaking courses or programs (if they are going to be front line communicators, such as store staff)? Have they volunteered where that experience can be related or relevant to the job at hand?

The best advice is to get them engaged on a short, paid project. Get them to show you that they actually have the capabilities of doing the job. Then assess your candidates based on that work, as part of the mix.

Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust

If you have the right questions and use the right tools it makes it easy to identify potential, and positive attitudes.

The problem is most hiring managers have never been trained in how to interview and most of the processes out there are broken.

Nikki Baird
BrainTrust

Totally overrated. The problem here is that retailers do not want to invest in training employees in front-line retail jobs. But it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: poor training leads to low job satisfaction, which leads to high turnover. If you look for people who have the right personality and attitude, and take the time to teach them how to actually do the job (and don’t make it hard to work there with constantly changing schedules), then they might stick around longer and actually be good, aligned brand ambassadors while they’re at it…

Bethany Allee
BrainTrust

Nikki hits on an opportunity for retailers to gain an edge on the competition – Gallup data shows the better the training, the more engaged and effective employees will be. This is an opportunity for retailers to hire the right cultural fit, so they can leverage the power of brand ambassadors.

Charles Dimov
Guest

I completely agree with you about personality and attitude. The worst thing is to bring on someone who has the aptitude (technical capabilities), but has a terrible attitude about the work.

Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust

In stead of might the word should be will stick around.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

I learned this when I was CMO of a coffee franchise and franchisees were eager to hire Starbucks employees “because they were trained.” No, they were trained on how Starbucks did things, not our brand. For that reason we told franchisees to not hire based on coffee experience. Just because an employee knows how to do the job somewhere else might mean you’ve brought a Trojan Horse of bad habits into your store.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

Remember, we are talking about RETAIL talent — in our high employee turnover business. It’s not an easy business to stay in long-term, and if we see a candidate with years of retail experience, it must be taken into account as much as whatever personality traits you can glean from a resume and interview. I agree that the soft skills mentioned are very desirable, however let’s keep on the lookout for the experienced hire when possible and balance that with other traits.

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

Hiring “talent” to work the floor or cashier comes with its own challenges, creating an internal hierarchy/pecking order between what should be equals. Most retailers would do well to hire people who have a real interest and enthusiasm for the role they are hired to do. Team building of equal contributors will foster an emotional connection with the job and enable many different types of “talent” to emerge. It is all about attitude. No room in retail for prima donnas.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

Good point, Cynthia. There’s no room for prima donnas anywhere. As an ancient proverb states: Strength, talent and capability are best revealed through quietness and confidence. (Paraphrased of course.)

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

Thanks Ian!

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

There is a clear distinction between having the “right” experience for a particular job versus having the personality and intangibles to fit in with a carefully curated corporate culture. The race for talent is not about acquiring those with the right skill sets and comparable experience. Rather it’s about soft skills, such as empathy, kindness, and willingness to adapt to any situation that will make one candidate stand out versus another.

With that foundation, the onus is on the company to provide the right amount of training, appropriate compensation, ownership, accountability, career growth, and incentivization structures to enable an outstanding employee experience. The old adage is that if you provide an outstanding employee experience, there is a strong chance that this will extend over to providing an excellent customer experience.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

I don’t think that experience is overrated in just the retail industry, I think it’s overrated everywhere. Sure, experience is important but so is talent and the desire to grow and learn. I think talent scares a lot of people; hiring for experience makes it easier.

Most of us would not be where we are today if someone had not recognized our talent and given us a chance.

Tony Orlando
BrainTrust

It comes down to the individual, and a great smile, and eagerness to actually show up and do your job. These factors matter most to me. I have experience beyond almost anyone in my industry, but unless I show my personality and selling skills, how could anyone learn from me? Retail is tough today and small businesses are struggling to fill slots, as many employees last a few weeks, quit, and move on to something else. If you can find the right person, train them well and pay them as much as you can afford as they are too valuable to lose.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

I have been in business for more than 40 years and very early on I found that talent eats experience for breakfast, lunch and dinner. On a broader scale nothing sinks a business more than lots of experience and a limited amount of talent.

Of course, talented experience beats everything.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Like another question today, this isn’t an either/or proposition. There are two kinds of experience. Some employees have 20 years experience and that means they know the ropes, have an established track record and would be good candidates. Then there are people with 20 years experience which in their cases means they learned a lot of bad habits in their first year and repeated them for 19 more without learning another thing. Ditto for a “good attitude.” Of course, you want to hire employees who are sharp, creative, willing to learn and advance, good with people, and seem to enjoy the work. But lots of folks have “good attitudes” but don’t develop competence for certain jobs. The right hire is one that has a great attitude and enough experience that they — and you — are sure they would be right for a job.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

I have two thoughts that may at first seem irrelevant to this discussion, but give them time. The first one comes from a choir instructor way back when I was in theology school. He kept stressing that “practice does NOT make perfect, it makes permanent.” The same often goes for experience. The second is the observation that rarely, if ever, is “wisdom” mentioned in qualifications or job descriptions. Wisdom is knowing how to uniquely apply knowledge to obtain the highest outcome in a situation you haven’t yet experienced. Experience, by definition, happened in the past and does not necessarily portend good things about future relevancy. Several colleagues here have hinted at that truth. And as a sidebar, wisdom will never come up in current political discussions either. Goodness knows we need nothing more these days!

Has anyone ever hired someone they’d consider “wise?” Would love to hear that story.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

Is experience the same as a demonstrated history of learning and growing? No. Is it the same as having proven a capacity for adaptability? No.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

My take is that experience is used because it’s a simple criteria. And in a world where avoiding blame is more important than doing good (most bureaucracies), HR departments and hiring managers know that it offers political cover from blame.

On the other hand, it’s silly. My son, a 21-year-old, makes regular fun of employment ads that demand a four-year degree and five years experience in order to earn $12/hour.

All this makes me wonder, do many HR departments live in an alternate universe? I suppose the answer is that they do — a bureaucracy.

Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust

Remember staffing in retail is an HR problem and an operations pain. I wonder how many HR professionals real know what it takes to be successful on the retail floor.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

Experience doesn’t automatically equal “good.” Bad experience is worse than no experience, while great talent can overcome a lack of experience with the right training. This simply speaks to why retailers need to have great training for front-line staff. Unfortunately, not all retailers do this and continue to see training as an unworthy expense. Those that do invest in training develop great experience in their talented employees and it’s reflected in their brand experience.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

Unfortunately experience, which should make a difference, is too often overrated. In many cases a candidate who states that he or she has 20 years of experience has one year of experience repeated 19 times.

Recruit aggressively, not passively. Assume you have hired someone who has achieved, learned, and fits. The next step is to involve the individual in your organization’s pursuit of customer delight. There are two aspects of the involving process — cultural and educational. The cultural part creates an environment that makes people feel good and enthusiastically supports their quest to delight customers. The educational component prepares these enthusiastic players to constantly and consistently delight current and potential customers.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

Why do we have to differentiate between experience and talent? Most people except for those young and just out of school have plenty of both. Here is where I see the line in the sand drawn. Experience requires a larger hourly wage rate while “talent,” which I am reading as youth in this case, works for less and then gets some experience.

Bill Hanifin
BrainTrust

Investment in a shorter version of the customary skill and personality assessments available in the market would be worthwhile. Why not find out if the person considered for hire is truly suited for the position and has an interest in doing it well? That one step could reduce turnover and help to manage training costs. In addition, a retailer might find that a person applying for a specific position might actually be better suited for another opening. Benefits here are for both the employer and employee. Everybody wins.

Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust

What test if any are you referring to?

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

Hire for attitude, train for skill. Learned that a long time ago. People who want to win trump experience every time. Matter of fact, people with a lot of experience are usually (operative term) very difficult to re-train to modern, fast changing techniques. I personally have hired entire store crews with no experience and in one instance, took that store to #1 in the brand. Similar experience with design teams as well — being excellent’s in the DNA, not the resume.

Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust

Most companies use experience to reduce, if not eliminate, the need for training and decrease the time to contribution — getting quicker value from the hire. Experience becomes a marker for future success. Where it fails to predict and deliver is when processes are in flux, new technology is introduced, and a break from past mental models is required.

Experience will always be sought, but it comes tempered with an open mind set, inquisitiveness, empathy, and a half-full attitude. These are qualities that the typical training program is less likely to produce.

David Naumann
BrainTrust
David Naumann
Vice President, Retail Marketing, enVista
5 months 16 days ago

You can teach almost anyone product knowledge and sales skills, but you can’t teach them attitude and personality. All day long, I would hire associates with less experience and a good attitude and personality. And if you are lucky, you will find someone with the total package — experience and talent.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Yes, but isn’t “talent” often demonstrated by having shown it on a job? There are different types of jobs in retail — compare a cashier to a sales associate — and each has different requirements, but all of them require honesty and discipline for which “experience” often serves as a proxy.

Cate Trotter
BrainTrust

Experience can definitely be useful, but I think there’s also a lot to be said for the right attitude. Someone who is motivated and wants to learn and cares about the brand is likely to get more out of their training and role.

One of the most interesting things I’ve seen is certain brands targeting their biggest fans when recruiting. It makes sense as who better to engage other customers than people who have naturally come to love your brand? Of course you need to have a brand that people actually care about and want to be connected with then — not too difficult for a cool sneaker brand, but maybe harder for your average supermarket.

Steve Dennis
BrainTrust

I hate to go the “it depends” route but in my experience (heh, heh) working across a spectrum of retailers including Sears and Neiman Marcus, a lot has to do with the nature of the outcome a brand seeks. Certain product and service sales ideally require a baseline of “technical” knowledge (fashion stylist, consumer electronics sales person and so on). In other cases hiring for talent should absolutely be the key driver where it fairly easy to teach the content.

The issue is exacerbated by the high rates of turnover. We had some success at Neiman’s hiring primarily based upon “hospitality” experience and overall relationship talent, knowing the fashion selling knowledge could be gained. But we had much lower turnover than most retailers, which meant we had time for that investment to pay off.

Sterling Hawkins
BrainTrust

Eagerness to learn new things, add value and ability to embrace (or even better, create) change are top in my book. 100% agree that most retail positions can be trained much easier than attitudes. When the people are aligned on values, vision and purpose (not just printed on a sign, but actually aligned as people) anything is possible.

Balasubramanian Thiagarajan
Guest

Does it not depend on the position that is being hired for? For example, you do want a person who has been there, done that as a manager, don’t you? In situations where a quick decision is needed, I would always want a person who has “experience” making the decision, rather than one who has all the talent but has no experience (there is risk of choking). I agree talent is critical, but I do not think experience should be overlooked. Is experience overrated? Absolutely. But is it a necessary criteria, along with talent and the aptitude and attitude to do the work? I believe so.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Look for people who have the right personality and attitude and take the time to teach them how to actually do the job and they might stick around longer ..."
"Has anyone ever hired someone they’d consider “wise?” Would love to hear that story."
"I have been in business for more than 40 years and very early on I found that talent eats experience for breakfast, lunch and dinner."

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