Does Experience Predict a New Hire’s Success?

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Chad H. Van Iddekinge of Florida State University and his colleagues did an investigation on the relations between an employee’s prior work experience and his or her performance in a new organization by reviewing 81 studies. The studies revealed that the two variables have no significant correlation. It is also said that even though people had accomplished tasks, held roles, or worked in functions or industries similar to their current ones, it does not guarantee that they will be performing better. In conclusion, experience does not predict the success of new hires.

This is very interesting considering the fact that mostly the first thing companies look for when screening candidates is the experience. The studies were done by using various performance measures, but at least there are two typical ways, which are: supervisor evaluations, such as annual reviews—or more-objective, quantifiable metrics, such as sales or, in one paper on sewing-machine operators, parts produced. Further, the jobs that investigated consisting of protective services (police, firefighters), sales and customer service jobs. While the roles are coming from frontline positions to managerial levels. Here are the elaborations of the studies:

Don’t interview and reference checks help employers figure all that out?

Yes, especially when you ask behavioral questions like “How have you previously handled difficult clients?”, etc. However, not all recruiters do the same way to evaluate the candidates. It is possible that applicants who could answer well have already been screened out due to their lack of traditional work experience.

What factors beyond experience should we consider?

Employers might think that candidates who have accomplished certain types of work have particularly desirable personality traits. The studies suggest focusing on the knowledge, skills, and traits directly rather than using experience or even education as a proxy.

Are there any scenarios in which experience matters?

In the studies, they also took a look at pre-hire experience and performance on the job after three months, two years, and five years. However, the relationship was weak in the longer year marks, and it was stronger at a shorter period, so experience happens to have helped some people as they were getting started. Maybe it’s because they were accustomed to employment and organizational life and can reach a starting point. Or maybe the manager gave incoming employees a better ranking experience at first. But over time the employee’s pre-recruitment experience becomes increasingly less important for doing their current job.

Is it realistic to think that HR departments and hiring managers will stop screening for experience?

We can understand why so many organizations do it: Experience is easily assessed. Have you worked in sales for three years? Have you managed anyone before? Yes or no. Past performance and existing knowledge and skills are more difficult to know, especially if all you have is an application or resume. But today, when everyone complains about skills shortages and a war for talent, companies can’t afford to get rid of candidates who will do very well but don’t have the experience that someone has chosen to enter a job description. You want to expand the collection of people that you are considering.

Are there any other simple screens we could use instead?

Maybe, but they will be different in every organization and job. The key is proof of correlation with job performance. Imagine there is a role you need to fill in the sales department and you see over time that people who majored in marketing tend to stay longer and get better customer reviews than those who study other subjects. That can be a decent screen. Other work may be certified; data might indicate that employees who have it outperform their peers, so you look for it when recruiting. Companies can also consider using other screening tools, such as tests that are relevant to the job. The problem is that most organizations do not take these steps. They use data to make decisions about products, marketing, and finance, but they don’t use it to make decisions about people, at least not effectively.

Does experience within an organization matter?

Van Iddekinge and the team did not look at post-hire experience, but other research shows that there is a relationship between how long a person is at work or working at a company and how well they perform. This is not a super-strong relationship, but it’s something the company might consider when deciding on promotions and transfers. Is experience more important for managers? That’s something we are looking at now. Let’s say a salesperson wants to be a sales manager, how much experience in the low-level job predicts success in a more senior job?

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