The decision between hiring a recent college graduate and an established professional might seem like a no-brainer, but for the sake of your startup, you should think twice. I wouldn’t argue against hiring experienced employees altogether, but better results often come from workers with little to no relevant experience, or “green” employees.
As companies have moved out of the recession and into another tech boom, finding great candidates has become quite a challenge. Almost half of employers in a survey expressed difficulty with hiring right now, bemoaning a lack of talent.
The overabundance of college degrees means experience might set candidates apart — but directly relevant experience doesn’t automatically translate to the best fit for a team.
Alternatively, some argue that inexperienced employees pose a financial liability for companies. It can be costly to train them, not to mention the toll it takes on the bottom line if a new hire doesn’t work out. But, regardless of experience, hiring the wrong person is always a mistake.
I encourage every entrepreneur to take a second look at inexperienced candidates — they can be great investments. The key to success and the best way to find employees is in the way you approach your hiring process.
Green employees have a lot to learn, but that’s their biggest asset. These young but inexperienced professionals typically want to be taught and to receive feedback because they’re eager to gain new skills.
Sapper Consulting experienced this firsthand when we had to scale up our client support team last year. The greener candidates were interested in where the company was headed and how they could make the most of this opportunity to advance their personal career ambitions. The experienced applicants, on the other hand, tended to focus on the salary and benefits.
Another positive quality of green employees is that they are hardworking and motivated by the desire to prove their value. In fact, the inexperienced hires we brought on last year excelled quickly, affirming that motivation over experience is the right priority.
These inexperienced employees also have unique perspectives because they haven’t been told there’s only one way to do things. You don’t have to worry about reversing ingrained habits, and you just might get some fresh ideas, too.
One final bonus: The relatively low salary entry-level employees command shouldn’t be the only thing you consider when you’re hiring, but it definitely doesn’t hurt.
We’ve hired a mix of experienced and inexperienced personnel, and a few stand out. One — we’ll call her Amber — came to us from a retail background and had no experience in the tech, sales, or consulting spaces. But she was very driven and eager to prove herself.
I gave her feedback from the start, particularly concerning her areas for growth. With some coaching and a lot of investment on her part, Amber developed the skill set of a much more seasoned employee by the end of the quarter.
Amber’s well-deserved promotion encouraged her to continue exceptional work and demonstrated to others that they’d receive rewards if they showed us results and improvement. She showed that a great résumé can’t replace the value of drive and curiosity.
Amber isn’t an anomaly. We found her thanks to a few smart hiring strategies that we believe is best way to find employees — and you can apply those strategies, too.
Trendy or unique experiences are intriguing, but they can also cloud your judgment. Search for inexperienced candidates in industries that require work to stand out. Some of our best team members have come from retail, logistics support, and professional services companies.
Leveraging the connections of your team, friends, and family allows you to circumvent people who have poor character and work ethic. Appstem, an app development company, relies heavily on its employee-referral program. It attracts and retains great new talent because employees make high-quality recommendations, knowing a referral could be a future co-worker.
“Would you describe yourself as hard-working?” That’s a leading question that will get you the answers you want to hear but not the ones you need to know. Instead, ask for proof. Try, “What goal are you proudest of accomplishing in the past three years?” or “What personal attribute has held you back the most in the past three years?” Asking for stories provides better insight.
The most revealing aspect of a Sapper interview is the role-playing, which lets us test-drive a difficult interaction with a potential new team member. Every interviewee plays out a situation differently. It demonstrates how a candidate responds to the pressure of a unique circumstance and how she or he solves problems with limited information. I’ve seen good candidates freeze up and uncertain candidates sail through.
When hiring green employees, drive, curiosity, and organization are nonnegotiable qualities. Drive pushes them to work hard, even if they aren’t already skilled. Curiosity greases the wheels during the learning process. Organization is the glue that holds it together — it allows a driven, curious person to sort, store, and act on newly acquired knowledge over time. If you find proof of these three traits, you likely have a great candidate on your hands.
Your hiring decision should be made on more than just a number. Experience does bring with it many benefits, but inexperience can prove to be just as valuable. It’s a matter of taking the time — and making the effort — to find the right green employee with good work ethic and the desire to grow.
A résumé will tell you where someone has been, but drive and curiosity will tell you where they’re going.