I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work. -Thomas Edison

A positive approach to hard work is the path to success.

When you’re hiring an IT specialist for a critical project, you need someone who will hit the ground running. You don’t have time to train them. You’re looking someone who’s proven themselves with years of on-the-job experience. Extra bonus points if their experience is with a competitor. Right?

You might want to rethink that.

I’ve been placing people in IT jobs with my clients for years. If there’s one thing I’ve learned for sure in 20 years of hiring and firing – job experience is the most overrated qualification.

Do you really want to hire people that have been molded for years by your competitors, possibly picking up bad habits….People who may have left your competitors due to non-performance issues? I didn’t think so. So I’m going to give you some interview screening tips to help you figure out which job candidates have an approach to work that makes their experience valuable.

Not all experience is valuable

I can’t argue with the value of focussed dedication to a skill. If this is a senior level technology role, of course you want them to have years of industry-specific experience. But not all experience is equally valuable. For instance:

  • Doing the same tasks repetitively
  • Passively following instructions while others solve the problems and make the decisions
  • Using outdated methodologies, practices and tools
  • Working in an environment that is loosey-goosey about ethics and morals

Experience + a strong work ethic = top performer

When you find a job candidate with all of the technical skills you’re looking for and lots of on-the-job experience, don’t jump the gun and offer them the job. Job experience is not necessarily a reliable predictor of future job performance. Top performers have qualities that are more important than experience.

  • They dig in and go above and beyond to solve tough problems.
  • They take initiative and add fix things without being asked.
  • They have a passion for their work that inspires others
  • They love to learn continuously to stay on top of the latest developments in their field

Mentorship, not experience, creates top performers

Our best hires for our internal staff at Stafflink have been people with two years or less of IT recruiting experience with a competitor. We place our new hires in a mentorship relationship with one of our superstar recruiters. It takes six months to a year for the person to get up to speed. But eventually they are running their own desk as an equal with our other more seasoned recruiters.

Corporate culture is the key to retaining top employees

Teamwork and cooperation is a huge factor in our success and our ability to retain our best employees. Corporate culture is the best retention tool I have discovered. It is important that our new staff appreciate a collaborative and fun working environment. We do not want to risk hiring someone who learned the trade in a cutthroat environment because this person could poison the positive vibe of our whole team.

How to figure out if a job candidate has what it takes

So how do you figure out if a person has the qualities that will make them top performer at your company? Check for their commitment to keeping their skills updated Experience is only valuable when it comes with a passion for learning and staying up-to-date with a subject. Never assume that job candidate will take the initiative to stay up-to-date with best practices in their field. It’s very important to check for this trait in the interview. Questions to ask:

  1. How do you keep your skills up to date? See if they mention mentors, courses, special interest groups, conferences, code repositories like Github, writing or reading blogs.
  2. Ask them how the technology they use has changed over the past 5 years. What are some things they do differently now compared with when they first learned the technology. Can they predict where the technology is going as it evolves into the future?

Get the specifics. If they draw a blank, this is a big red flag that they are not interested in keeping up to date with their field. Look for a passion in their eyes when they talk about their speciality. Questions to reveal their approach to work

  1. Do you enjoy solving problems? Tell me about a time that you stepped in to help your coworkers solve a tough problem.
  2. Do you participate in any online support groups?
  3. Give me an example of a time when you hit a roadblock in your work. Tell me how you overcame it. What are your first steps whenever you are faced with a technical problem for the first time.
  4. Have you ever made a contribution that went beyond the normal expectations for your role?
  5. Have you received and special recognition for outstanding work?

Jim Roddy suggests more questions you can use to help uncover a job candidate’s true character in his post How to avoid America’s biggest hiring mistake:

  1. Give an example of something you accomplished that others around you said couldn’t be done and how you got it done.
  2. Can you tell me a couple of examples of systems or processes you installed that didn’t exist in the company before you worked there? How did you ensure those systems didn’t erode? How did you make sure they operated successfully for years?
  3. Can you give me an example of a time when you had to solve a really complex problem that required multiple steps across weeks or months?

What do you think? Is experience the most important job criteria? Would you hire someone with less experience if they had the qualities of a top employee?

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