In the never-ending battle for great talent, business owners always struggle with the decision to hire someone with experience, or hire someone without experience. There are many factors that business owners must weigh when making a hire. The decision goes way beyond a resume.
Quite often, a start-up will think it’s a good idea to hire someone really experienced because of their rolodex/contacts, and their career experience. I’ve even heard this type of hire called “the grey-hair” factor. Younger business owners believe that someone “older” will bring a certain level of credibility to the organization. This usually fails for these reasons:
1. It’s not a cultural fit.
2. Never hire someone because of their contacts.
3. Often experience in a large firm does not translate well into a small firm. They are totally different universes. Further, someone who’s worked in a company that’s been around for a long time often has difficulty adjusting to the entrepreneurial culture.
Conversely, many small companies, who operate on a shoe-string budget, think it’s a good idea to hire recent college grads or entry-level workers because they think they will get super-hard workers for a really cheap salary. This often fails for these reasons:
1. Inexperienced employees need a lot hand-holding and management. They can’t be thrown into a work environment and be expected to hit the ground running.
2. They need lots of training. Training on their job, training on the general work environment, training on how to be an employee. The move from college campus to office is a major change. Even for hires that have a little experience under their belt, they still need a lot of training.
One small business that seems to be the exception to this rule is my Successful Culture client, technical staffing firm Vector Technical Resources. Vector is a small business powerhouse. I asked President & CEO Marc Berman how he has successfully implemented a model where inexperienced new-hires thrive.
“As a small business starting out, Vector did not have the ability to provide our new hires with a training program. Therefore, it was the responsibility of the leadership to document what they believed were “best practices” based upon our decades of experience in the industry. Our first several hires were seasoned high-producing “A” players who had a proven recipe for success throughout the staffing industry. Once we were comfortable that our core team was assembled, we then felt comfortable and confident that we could repeat these processes with less experienced individuals.
After approximately 2 years, we were in a position to roll out our self-documented and well-honed training program that we fondly refer to as Vector Boot Camp. We have had massive success in a well-scripted and thoroughly designed program that can open our doors to a whole new level of hire. Instead of finding those candidates that have multi-years of experience (not always good experience) in our industry, we now focus on the drive, creativity and professionalism of someone who has a love and passion for the business and the Vector culture.”
Vector is definitely the exception for small businesses. It took the company two years to develop their processes, but now the efforts are paying off.
Below I provide a high-level analysis of what business owners can expect based on experience level. These are generalizations. There are obviously exceptions to every rule. However, across the board, these characterizations are accurate.
Experience Level: Inexperienced (
• A clean slate. No need to “unlearn” behaviors.
• An optimistic, non-cynical attitude.
• Great energy.
• Current and comfortable with emerging technologies.
• Inexpensive to hire – entry-level salary.
• Usually willing and able to work long hours.
• Clueless regarding a real job. (Sorry college grads. Unless you have had a really awesome internship experience, I’m stating the obvious).
• Lack of understanding of how a company works.
• Generally not a lot of resilience yet.
• Lack of experience working with different generations.
• Possible lack of confidence.
• Needs a lot of management.
• In the I-don’t-know-what-I-don’t know box.
• Companies that can provide a very structured training environment.
• Companies that want to indoctrinate employees into a specific way of doing things.
• Companies that have the financial cushion and processes to train people and keep them in overhead positions as they get up to speed.
Experience Level: Mid-Level (3 – 8 years) to Upper Level (8-15 years)
• Has some experience.
• Has an idea of what they like and don’t like.
• Salary requirements still manageable (mid-level).
• Energy is high.
• Has started to develop a good network.
• Has developed a good work ethic.
• Brings knowledge/certifications from education/training opportunities provided by previous companies.
• Has possibly job-hopped. Scrutinize for patterns.
• May be vying for an executive position, potentially with a misguided sense of capabilities.
• Salary requirements may be creeping up (upper level).
• May need to “un-learn” behaviors that were acceptable in previous positions.
• May be conditioned to different cultures; expectations may be misaligned.
• May need to be re-trained.
• May have many competing priorities/obligations outside of the office.
• Companies that have middle layers of management.
• Companies that can offer clear career tracks.
• Companies that can offer education and training opportunities.
• Companies that have a strong on-boarding process.
Experience Level: Very Experienced (>15 years)
• Is confident in their abilities.
• Brings a lot of experience.
• Has established a good network.
• Does not require a lot of management; has a good work ethic.
• Understands their direct relationship to top-line and bottom-line results.
• Can contribute to a leadership team.
• Can often hit the ground running, and be expected to deliver results quickly.
• May need to “un-learn behaviors that were acceptable in previous positions.
• May have high salary demands as they have climbed the corporate ladder.
• May have many competing priorities/obligations outside of the office.
• May not be up-to-speed and/or comfortable with the latest technologies and productivity tools.
• May be used to having a team to manage/delegate to, and is expecting that.
• May not be used to working with younger generations as peers.
• May be experiencing burn-out, or may be thinking about “what’s next.”
• May have some friction with incumbent company execs.
• Larger companies that can afford high salaries.
• Companies that have an established infrastructure. Start-ups are typically not a good cultural match for people that have spent a decade climbing a corporate ladder, due to lack of structure and salary constraints.
• Companies that have a very clear idea of their gap in existing leadership, and are looking to fill a very specific void.
Finding the right talent will always be one of the biggest challenges for a growing company. It’s easy to become enamored with a stacked resume, but it’s critical to really think about the cultural fit.
Unlearning behaviors and habits can be more time-consuming and costly than teaching new behaviors and habits.
Realigning and adjusting expectations can be more difficult than setting new expectations with a blank slate.
In addition to these considerations, remember to always ask the three questions I outlined in a previous blog: Do they Get it, Want it, and have the Capacity to do it? I outline these questions here.
Good luck in your hunt for great talent!
Need help determining exactly who you need? Need help on-boarding employees? Let’s chat about your needs in a 15-minute skype call. Email me!
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CEO, Successful Culture
“Taking Leaders from Triage to Transformation.”