The Capacity-Experience Paradox: Why an Experienced Hire May Not be the Right Choice

looking past the resume

Many an employer has hired the “most experienced candidate” only to be disappointed.  How can that be, that new hires with all the desirable and related experiences would not necessarily then demonstrate the expected capacity for the job? 

Founder and managing director of Acceleration Partners, Bob Glazer calls it the “capacity-experience paradox,” an apt title for an odd phenomenon. 

Here’s why experience and capacity are unrelated qualities, and how to analyze both in your hiring practices to secure the best possible team for maximum company growth.

Qualities on Paper

You can tell a great deal from a resume, though not necessarily what you might expect.  A resume can tell you:

  • Ability to articulate and communicate clearly
  • An element of professionalism, such as having grammar all correct
  • Employment history, such as bouncing from job-to-job or giving a couple of years to a single project
  • Internal promotion at past work places (a great indication of potential value)
  • Facts that you can check to ensure honest (as many as 85% of applicants will lie on resumes)

Where employers can get into trouble is when looking for a resume to tell you everything about a candidate.  Unfortunately, it can’t.  It’s a wonderful first step for a glimpse at professionalism and some facts that you can check, but it won’t summarize a person or even the qualities that will actually help a candidate succeed.  For that, best hiring practices include an active screening interview.

Successful Screening Steps

While narrowing down applicants with the resume screening process, do not discount possibly related experience in other industries.  The most valuable employees are often the most versatile people–they don’t necessarily only ever work in a single industry, but may instead bring a variety of skills which apply to other businesses. 

Examples of skills and qualities to look for in the next screening steps include:

  • Communication skills – While not every valuable employee will be a natural extrovert, most industries will require professional communication skills such as the ability to listen, articulate clearly, and treat others with kindness.
  • Software or equipment skills – If you use specific software, computers or equipment in your business, your ideal candidate does not necessarily need to already use the same tools,  Instead, look for candidates with enough related experience in similar applications or equipment, and the ability to learn. 
  • Growth potential – Candidates with the initiative to learn and try new things, even if they have not yet had the job title, are often more valuable than ones who have become complacent with experience.

Better than Experience

Screening for these, and other valuable qualities, can be difficult without what would be called an active interview process and internal assessment.  Even the military uses their own test for skill potential, making it possible for them to identify and recruit talent for complex and specialized jobs, as early as straight out of high school.  Through years of trying to obtain thousands of qualified recruits, they came to see that language aptitude for learning foreign languages, mechanical aptitude for engineering fields, and other such specialized learning tasks, were easier for them to identify through testing than through resumes and prior experience.

Take a page from that vast body of experience by setting up your own active interview process: an on-site presentation, where you see how a candidate fields questions, a shadow day, where you observe interaction with co-workers, and/or a software/equipment aptitude assessment for your industry all greatly enhance the hiring process.

Experience also does cost more, but only if it is coupled with these other desirable qualities is it worth the price tag.  Better to choose capacity over prior experience in new hires.

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