People with experience on their resumes tend to receive more interview requests, and experience is certainly good for personal brand and increasing perceptions of competence. Surprisingly, however, a meta-analysis  about the effects of work experience on job performance might just make Einstein want to rethink his ideas on knowledge.
The analyses showed that THE ONLY strong connection between work experience and performance was the amount of times a task or job was carried out. So, if you have done specific tasks repeatedly and well, this constitutes a match between job experience and job performance. However time spent in a particular position – or “experience” – does does not automatically translate into either knowledge or skill.
The reason for this discrepancy is that people may have not done the work well or reflected on how they could have done things differently or improved. A study about managerial behaviour  showed that unless managers discussed issues with other managers, and unless front line workers reflected on what they learned at work and reported back to managers about that learning, most workplace experience fossilized bad behaviours, effectively entrenching incompetence.
How these findings affect employers
Knowing that “experience” doesn’t always translate to competence and that reflection, not necessarily time spent in a position, is an integral part of on-the-job mastery, recruiters and employers should start looking at the resumes they receive differently, and perhaps stop “typecasting” applicants into prescribed roles.
Consider the resume of a candidate who is not from Canada. Maybe the experience listed does not look familiar. Often resumes such as these are dismissed because there is no “Canadian experience” listed. The hidden message behind this practice could be that employers don’t want to hire people with whom they do not feel immediately comfortable or who seem unfamiliar culturally.
What if the employer instead decided to provide the candidate a chance, and asked for a demonstration of a skill? Skill-specific tests can often be the best way to determine “job fit,” especially when the education or experience listed on a resume isn’t seemingly linked to the position or if it is unclear to the employer.
For example, an engineering company may ask a candidate to draw out the basics of a design or solve an engineering problem. A restaurant can ask a chef to prepare a dish, an accounting firm can request candidates to respond to accounting problems, and a college can have the candidate teach a demonstration lesson. Interacting with the candidate when this is happening, or asking questions about what they were thinking as they did the task afterwards will help recruiters and employers get to know the candidate better and see how they may fit into the company culture.
The above findings about job experience also apply when considering hiring new graduates without directly relevant job experience. A young person with great potential who learns quickly can be a better job fit than a more experienced candidate who seems to have expertise, but on the job proves otherwise.
How these findings affected me
A year ago I hired a marketing employee from Colombia. She came to the interview with a portfolio of marketing projects that looked good. But when she provided an analysis of my website with recommendations for improvement, I knew she had the right analysis skills and attitude. When I asked her, “What would you do to better market our products and services?” she replied that she would need to do a deeper analysis and ask more questions before she could offer any recommendations. She then listed several questions that would have to be answered before she could come up with a plan. I was very satisfied with both the demonstration of competence and the answer to my question. She knew marketing a business should not be approached in some generic way and she had strategies to get to the answers she would need to find.
Because she was such a fast learner, within three months I didn’t have to proofread any of her work and, a year later, I rarely have mistakes to correct. Although English is not her first language and she only learned it recently, she writes better than both of my previous Canadian-born employees and has learned all the skills I required without any difficulties.
There are a few lessons we can learn from this story:
- Dismissing people on the basis of “lack of experience,” be that Canadian experience or direct experience in a specific job, may result in losing out on talented and capable future employees
- People should be given the opportunity to demonstrate their skill in a job interview situation
- When we choose candidates in these ways, we can count on taking less time to onboard any new employees and be assured that we have found people who will “fit” better in our organization than if we had just hired for the experience listed on a resume
“Never lose an opportunity to see the good in someone”
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“The only source of knowledge is experience”
References: Quinones, M.A., Ford, J.K., & Teachout, M.S. (1995) The relationship between work experience and job performance: A conceptual and meta-analytic review. Personnel Psychology, 48, 887-910. AND Rowe, P. M. (2015). Researchers’reflections on what is missing from work-integrated learning research [special issue]. AsiaPacific Journal of Cooperative Education, 16(2), 101-107.