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We see it every day, every time we hear about Marc Zuckerberg’s success, or Google’s ubiquity, or even the sheer power of Apple. There are lessons all around us about how talent trumps experience. How talented people start out with nothing to become powerhouses. Despite this, there are still tons of job advertisements that seek direct experience (people who have held the position they’re applying for in the past) crippling the job search for those just starting out. This is a tragic mistake that many companies pay for through the nose with bad hire after bad hire.

There are times that people’s insistence on experience defies all reason, like the anecdotal case in which a recent graduate from Johns Hopkins University with a degree in economics found it impossible to get an internship at top banks because they wanted you to have experience interning at other top banks. There was no way to get started. Ignoring talent in favor of experience keeps out new blood fresh perspectives that are needed to keep a company competitive.

We don’t need to look far to see the success stories of people without direct experience that totally blow the doors off the hinges and rocket to the top of their industries. Richard Branson for example was a high school drop out with $200 at 16 when he started the journey that finds him the 7th richest citizen of Britain worth over 5 billion. It doesn’t take much thought to see the folly of ignoring talent.

Luckily, there are a few companies that see the benefits of hiring for talent. Companies like Zenith, Pepsi, and Gawker all have hiring policies that focus on talent. The experts know that working with those with the talent to do the job, results in people using their strengths to get the job done. Studies show that people who use their strengths report feeling less stressed, are happier and more satisfied with their jobs. Happier satisfied workers are more productive; while on the other hand, unhappy workers are responsible for a full third of all bankruptcies.

The Advantages of Ignoring Credentials


There is a bit of risk in hiring people without the ideal credentials but the risk is often offset by the fresh perspective that they bring to the table. With that in mind:

  • No direct experience can be good — They’ll come to the job  with fresh eyes and may come to finding innovative solutions to issues that experience wouldn’t have the flexibility to see. Plus there are no old bad habits to break. Those just starting out may be willing to take more risks because for them, everything is new. A fresh perspective can question existing practices, and propose new approaches, ideas, and innovations.
  • Diversity is good — Having a diverse team of people allows for far more collaboration than teams of all the same background. This kind of cooperation lends to teams developing a high Emotional Intelligence which is invaluable in a business setting. Having people of various experience levels as well as different backgrounds will create a dynamic in which adaptability will be their strength.
  • Every superstar was once unknown — Taking a chance on people with talent who haven’t yet made a name for themselves can possibly result in a “diamond in the rough” type situation who may quickly become a superstar.
  • Easier to hire — Candidates without perfect credentials tend to have less competition clamoring to hire them, thus you won’t have to compete as hard to get their attention. The ferocity of the headhunting competition for those with perfect credentials is legendary. There are less powerful companies that can’t afford to compete on that level, and therefore those with more talent than experience are a good bet for them.
  • Experience may actually be a negative — Those with years of experience may be set in their ways and making transitions might be more difficult to them. Long ingrained habits have to be unlearned. New approaches to the same problems that they faced before will be alien to them and may be confusing. Experience also sometimes stifles the ability to innovate, to adapt. There is also the consideration of support systems that were in place to help them in their previous work that may be completely different or nonexistent in your company.

There are a lot of people who are simply passable at what they do, and it’s rare to find someone truly inspired by their work. Focusing on experience rather than talent ignores this point. Many with lots of experience are unremarkable and don’t have the same hunger to succeed and have nothing to prove unlike those with no experience. This obsession with experience is causing businesses to pass over potential Zuckerbergs and Bransons.

Posted by Mordecai Hunter

Mordecai Hunter is a writer with aspirations to start his own consulting firm. He has traveled the globe and speaks 4 languages. In his spare time, he plays and repairs guitars and loves video games.

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