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  • Writer's pictureBen Kettle

Turning Trash Into Treasure

Updated: Jan 3, 2022

3 Steps to improve “Years Work Experience”

Hey Everyone,

Last week, we established that “Years of Experience” is one of the worst indicators of candidate performance. So the question becomes, what do we do about it?

Well, that’s what we will talk about here. By the end of this post, you should be able to think critically and turn “Years Work Experience” into something more valuable to you, your team, and your organization.

trash to treasure

Overall the idea is simple: We want to move from a method with poor predictive outcomes (“Years Work Experience”) to one with much better predictive outcomes (almost anything else).

To refresh your memory, here’s how the different methods stack up:

Candidate Selection Methods

So how do we do that? Three steps:

  1. Refine - What traits, skills, or other attributes are we hoping to get out of “Years Work Experience?”

  2. Prioritize - Which of those factors are important?

  3. Measure - How can we objectively measure those factors?

Now let’s talk about each step in detail.

Step 1 - Refine

The goal here is to distill, with as much detail as possible, what you and your team mean when you use the word “experience.”

You can refine “Experience” in any number of ways. To start, it may be helpful to employ a version of the Five Whys framework. For example:

Coworker: We need someone with at least three years of experience

You: Why?

Coworker: So we know that they have the skills we need to do the job.

You: What skills are we looking for specifically?

Coworker: Well, this person will be a staff accountant, so we need to know that they are a competent accountant.

You: I agree. Maybe instead of experience, we use a Work Sample Assessment that tests the accounting skills the candidate needs to have?

By challenging yourself and your team to drill down one level deeper, you went from using a method that predicts candidate performance with only 3% effectiveness to using one with 29% effectiveness. In other words, you went from using the worst method to using the best. Congrats!

Because experience means different things to different people, you will have to run through this exercise a few times to determine all the attributes people mean when they say “Years Work Experience.” And that’s OK, “experience” is a broad, catch-all term. It means many things to many different people - your job is to determine what those things are.

Step 2 - Prioritize

Now that you have your list of all the components that make up “Experience,” it is time to whittle that list down.

What are the two or three measurable attributes that are most important?

Step 3 - Measure

The last step is to ensure that you are grading each candidate fairly.

The best way to achieve this is to develop a rubric for each trait that leaves little room for subjectivity. For the Work Sample Assessment example above, this is fairly easy, but there are cases (i.e., when evaluating leadership abilities) where it gets a bit trickier.

Let’s say that you are hiring a Product Manager. Instead of “5 years of experience in product management,” you and your team determine that what you really need is someone with a solid decision-making framework they’ve honed by (presumably years) of shipping products.

To measure that attribute, you and your team may look critically at your own past decisions and ask the candidate how they would approach those same problems. Maybe during a post-mortem, you and your team determined flaws in your own process. A candidate who anticipates those flaws and calls them out would score fairly high. On the other hand, a candidate who walks right into those same decision-making mistakes would score lower. This is an oversimplified example, but you get the idea: you need to be able to objectively assign a numerical value to a candidate's answer and follow it.1

Final Thoughts

Think critically about “Years Work Experience” and all the traits or abilities you and your team could lump into that vague and broad term. Get specific on what you need, prioritize those needs, and then measure them objectively.

Professionally, we gain “experience” by the passing of time, that’s all. However, our years of work experience say nothing about our ability to learn and grow. Rather than “Years Work Experience,” I’d much rather be evaluated by my skills, traits, or other attributes that I’ve worked to improve. I imagine that you would too.

Why would we treat candidates any differently?


1 Big thanks to my friend, former colleague, and fellow mountain biker, William Callaway, for his input here.

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