Potential Over Experience

HRM 22 Feb 2013

A personal account on considering the capabilities in an employee instead of being short sighted by purely credentials.

Seven years ago, I sent my resume to a recruitment firm hoping to secure a role with them. I did not have the relevant experience the firm was looking for; neither did I come from a multinational background. I was certain, my CV would be destined for the “Delete” folder immediately. However, I gave this a shot because I knew I had nothing to lose.

Two hours after clicking the “Send” button, I received a call from a lady to interview at specialist recruitment consultancy, Robert Walters Singapore. She became my boss for the next seven years.

I have met many people in the course of my recruitment career, both clients and candidates.  When my colleagues and I pick up a job brief, clients often require job seekers with relevant industry experience.

Their reasons include Asia is growing aggressively; which requires the new hire to enter the company and hit the ground running in order to beat competitors. There is no time for training and the candidate needs to know the industry in order to add significant value to the business right from the beginning. 

While some job functions such as human resources (HR) and finance are transferable across industry sectors, I have witnessed companies requiring people with relevant industry experience. In my primary recruitment domain of HR, where strong business partnering and compensation & benefits talent are scarce, organisations often prefer to hire someone who has been there, done that.

This leads to a price war, as even in a soft recruitment market, the pool of talent will not increase. In fact, it is tougher to attract candidates to move into another organisation unless the role provides strong unique selling points (USPs) which the talent is looking for.

Do people with relevant experience make the best choice for your organisation? There are differing views on this one. Please do not misunderstand, there are advantages to hiring professionals with industry experience. However, hiring people with potential comes with numerous advantages and I speak from my personal experience and of the candidates I meet everyday. They include:

  1. Coming with a lower “price tag” upon employment. Please note however, that I strongly recommend employers bring them up to market value when they have delivered.
  2. Not having pre-conceived notions or “bad habits” which they can bring with them from past experiences.
  3. The willingness to learn and absorb the training given.
  4. Loyalty to a company which gave them a chance when nobody else did.
  5. The ability to look at problems with a fresh pair of eyes and contribute new ideas.
  6. There is more room for development in such talent and companies can get longer tenure from them.

While there are many advantages, my advice for companies when hiring for potential over experience is to look out for candidates with transferable skills. This is tied to how an interview should be effectively conducted. I recommend asking questions that allow them to provide examples that relate to what you are looking for. Besides looking for transferable skills, we need to identify the learning agility of the person. We also need to suss out if the professional possesses passion or values which the organisation embodies as well (value-based hiring practices).

On their part, the firm should also ensure both classroom and on-the-job training for the new hire. Goal setting and constant feedback is also essential so employees know they are on track. In this talent-short market, both HR and businesses need to manage their costs effectively. I say, give guys with potential a chance, you will never know what you get from them.

As for me, I always joke with my boss that she must had been really desperate to put a warm body on the chair as the reason for hiring me. However, seven years ago, she knew what I had to offer better than I did.



Written by Joanne Chua, Associate Director - HR, Supply Chain & Business Support (Permanent) Divisions, Robert Walters Singapore


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