I Worked With Them
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Qualifications, ‘criteria’ and ‘experience’, do they matter?

“No Suzy, for that one you need 10 years’ experience as a toddler”

This is a big question as most application processes give significant weight to these 3 things so let’s take them in turn:

Qualifications

(and by that I mean the ones you usually get before you start work e.g. degrees etc)

No, probably not.

Passing a university degree (or getting the highest honours in it), does not mean someone will be your best employee.

When you think about it, most education is so alien when compared to the world of work that there are really very few parallels, so everyone pretty much starts from the same jumping-off point (hence the reason why there exist whole industries centred around developing graduate training). Despite some of the most useful (I didn’t say valuable) things in say an office job being proficiency with Excel, PowerPoint and Word, public speaking and managing people, the amount of time spent on these at universities in an analogous manner to office work? Nil (or very close to).

Passing exams (what, unfortunately, we focus on mostly at university) is rarely useful in the real world. The cramming for short memory retention, the sitting in silence without reference to the internet or to be able to work with others to work through a problem. This is the polar opposite of how the world works in practice.

If you have been working for a few years now, thinking back to the people who got those top marks, how many are now flying high in their careers? Sure, there will be some, there has to be statistically, but probably no greater proportion than average.

What we should be looking at is relevant, practical experience. A reference from a part-time job is arguably more useful and valuable to an employer than a first-class degree in determining what someone will be like to work with. So much of university work is theoretical, conceptual, not nearly enough relevant and practical and therefore not a reliable indicator for employers.

But it gets worse, because while you could, if you really had to, maybe use educational attainment as a differentiator (but to be honest this is just laziness in your recruiting process) for new graduates (if they have no other work of which to speak), many places persist with this focus, long after students have left.

Those credentials somehow make it into CVs and are judged years later, when the candidate has worked in numerous other roles since. It should be irrelevant where the candidate went to university if they have since worked. Do you know what a really good proxy for judging how well someone will perform working at your company? How well they worked at another company… not how they were able to study/copy, blag at university.

Nobody should be hired because they went to Oxbridge, it’s double-counting. If the institutions are so fine and valuable in their teachings, then the student (and now candidate) will shine through in the interviews. Otherwise, you are purely relying on the universities selection criteria, which I would imagine, should be very different to yours when you are hiring for your new Logistics Manager.

Criteria

Probably not. How many job ads have you looked at where you think the company sounds great, the role is the same or similar to your current one but then you get to the detailed job specification and suddenly there are a whole host of things you haven’t done that the company has declared “must haves’?

Studies have shown that if you are a woman this will almost certainly put you off applying for the role (women only tend to apply when they meet 100% of the criteria), and men will only apply if they meet 60% of the job specification requirements.

But really, how many of these attributes really can’t be learned on the job?

Generally, when people write out job specifications, they will think about exactly what the last person in the role did or they will take a guess at what the role will entail (if it is a completely new role). In either circumstance then it is the ‘best guess’ of what the role is.

What they do not do is apply any weighting as to where your time may be spent in that role. What if, of 10 items listed, two of them account for 80% of your daily work, and you can do them easily. Whereas the other 8 are nice-to-haves but that you have no experience in (but could certainly learn). You probably wouldn’t apply for that job despite being perfect for it!

Also, consider how different people approach the very same roles. Take two financial controllers in a company. One could be exceptionally technical, coming up with complex financial and tax structures that save the company money, another could be a fantastic people manager who enables the people around them to be more effective and efficient in their roles, thus creating a leverage effect.

Writing a highly detailed job specification would almost certainly put one of them off applying as it is unlikely most specifications are written in a way that appeals to both and so you lose out on seeing a quality candidate.

Focus on the high-level requirements for a role rather than the small details and let your candidates tell you how they would approach it, they might surprise you with some truly new ideas!

If you only ever hire identical employees, replacing like for like each time then nothing ever changes or improves, not significantly anyway.

Experience

To an extent, yes, but not how you think. One thing that really annoys me is when I see a job description that asks for a minimum 10 years’ experience in xyz domain (and we’ve all seen the memes about this when it is a domain that hasn’t existed that long e.g. automation, social media marketing).

Time is not an indicator of ability.

It is literally ignoring “quality over quantity” and saying that just because someone has been there longer that they must be better.

People often misquote or misunderstand the infamous 10,000 hours rule. It isn’t that you just have to be present where something is happening for 10,000 hours to be world-class at it, it is that you have to spend 10,000 hours of deliberate, focussed practise on that thing. Take for example the fact that you may be at work 7 hours a day for 6.5 years, that’s your 10,000 hours right there, does that mean everyone who turns up is world-class at what they do?

I am sure anyone who looks around at the people in their office would probably smirk if they were told the people around them are ‘world-class’.

The same applies to work. For most senior positions in businesses (c-suite etc) you would be asked for 10 years’ experience, so you would be ruling out pretty much anyone 30 or under, despite the fact that that would include people like John Collison (Founder of Stripe), Evan Spiegel (Founder of Snap), Whitney Wolfe Herd (Founder of Bumble), along with pretty much any of the other big tech cofounders as their companies reached $1bn in valuation.

Time is not a proxy for experience, not a good one at least. How do you know that someone didn’t just rest on their laurels for 10 years? Maybe in 2 years someone worked more hours and was involved in more deeply in more projects than someone working for 5 years? Would you rather have someone passionate with 3 years’ experience or just wanting to do the bare minimum with 5 years +?

Again, this just speaks to laziness in the recruitment process.

But how else do we filter out candidates?

Hopefully, by now you are bought into the fact that qualifications, detailed job specifications and experience shouldn’t play (or should play far less of) a role in your recruitment process.

They prohibit opportunity, prevent some of the best people from getting the right jobs and result in worse experiences for everyone involved. So, if we can’t rely on these two heuristics, how else are we meant to filter a pool of 1,000 applicants down to our shortlist?

Well first we want to know; do they know how to do the job — so we ask them.

Come up with a task (or set of tasks), something relevant and current to your business, make it as real-life as possible. It may be a problem you are currently trying to overcome or something new you want to work on (make it specific though, we aren’t looking for free labour here). This will filter out a large number of candidates right off the bat — which is what we want, we don’t want the CV spammers, we only want people who want to work with us and are interested in what we are trying to do. Get them to explain their thinking with their outcome.

Now to what they are like to work with. To find this out you are going to have to get good at quizzing references. Reference checks shouldn’t be ‘tick the box’ exercises. These are your opportunity to really understand your potential employee, what their strengths and weaknesses are, what they are like under pressure, what their goals and ambitions are, how they treat others. Think carefully about the questions you want to ask them, think back to recent hires (especially any mistakes), what do you wish you’d known about them before you’d hired them?

Combine these two approaches with some more task-oriented assessments (preferably with their actual team and manager) and you will have a pretty good view as to the right people to hire.

If you found this article interesting, you can find more on the topic here, and don’t forget to check out I Worked With Them.

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