Why Hiring Based On Experience Could Damage Your Business

Recent studies reveal that hiring based on proven success isn't always the way to go. Instead, try these 4 alternatives to finding a top candidate.
December 17, 2013

When hiring, the first thing we usually look for is a proven track record. We look for and reward recruits who have succeeded in a similar position elsewhere. However, new research from two European business schools explains why this may not be the best strategy.

In their paper for Human Resource Management Journal, Monika Hamori of the IE Business School in Spain and Burack Koyuncu of the NEOMA Business School in France collected data on the careers of CEOs of S&P 500 corporations. They found that almost 20 percent of the CEOs had had at least one CEO job prior to their current one and that these executives performed worse than those without such experience.

As recently reported in Forbes, the research demonstrates that the job-specific experience these CEOs gained in their prior CEO jobs interfered with their performance in their new job. Job-specific experiences may slow down learning because some knowledge and techniques need to be unlearned before learning in the new context can take place.

The authors also suggest that experienced CEOs may apply lessons learned in one situation to another in the mistaken belief that they are facing a similar situation they've seen before. That is, they may take decision-making shortcuts that lead to them arriving at the same answer to a different problem.

Although it was conducted with CEOs, it’s easy to see how this research is applicable to employees at other levels. If you really want the top performers, instead of looking for people with proven job experience in the same role, try searching for candidates in these four areas.

1. Different Departments

It’s no secret that companies love to hire from within, but it’s usually in the context of a career path that makes sense. However, you should not underestimate the power of someone who already knows and understands your culture and who can also bring a fresh perspective to the role because he has been doing something very different up to this point.

2. Temporary Placement Firms

When we want to recruit the best and brightest, temp firms are usually not the first places that come to mind. But actually, hiring someone with great skills for a short-term stint in the desired role fits right in with Hamori and Koyuncu’s advice to place promising candidates in interim positions. This gives them a chance to acquire company-specific knowledge and try out the role before both sides can decide if the fit is a good one.

3. Volunteer Organizations

The great thing about volunteer organizations is that they attract people with strong moral compasses and work ethics. Such people also have the tendency to have lots of transferable skills since nonprofit institutions require all hands on deck for many initiatives. So what if a recruit doesn’t know your industry inside and out? This information can be learned, while the desire to go above and beyond the call of duty usually can’t be.

4. Social Outings

There’s no better place to converse with someone informally—without interviewing hats on—than at a friend’s party or other social gathering. Unlike networking events, where everyone is spouting carefully crafted elevator pitches, relaxed scenarios allow you to better size up a person and whether they might be appropriate for your organization. Deliberately pinpoint someone who isn’t like you.  Ask them about their recent work achievements, and don’t write them off if you don’t see an immediate connection to what you do. Dig deeper to see how tangential results in other positions could relate to your needs now. 

Read more articles on hiring.

Photo: Getty Images