Experience is overrated, hire talent

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Jun 03, 2019

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
Guest

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
Guest

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
Guest

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
Guest

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
Ricardo Belmar
Retail Transformation Thought Leader, Advisor, & Strategist
2 years 3 months ago

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.