Is Experience Overrated in Selection?

Ad Age Blog

Anthony Young posed the question in a posting on the Ad Age Blog whether experience was overrated in selecting advertising agencies. Here’s a short excerpt of what he said:

In new business, agencies frequently like to speak to their experience, but do clients place the same importance on it? In a recent new-business meeting we had with a prospect, I insisted that we not present any credentials or client case-studies. The pitch team was unsure but agreed to go with it. The clients' feedback: Of all the agencies they met, we impressed them the most.

We can extend this idea of “is experience overrated” to hiring and a variety of other selection issues. Here was my response to this comment about using experience as “selection” criteria”:

You make a very good point asking the question of whether experience allows you to predict future performance. This is the tribal methodology employed by most companies, whether it's in the hiring process or the selection of vendors, suppliers, consultants, coaches, and service firms.

We've written an entire book on this subject,  based on 25 years of research, why hiring at a managerial and executive level fails over 50% of the time. One of the primary culprits in this failure is an over-reliance on past experience.




One of the key problems in “selection” is that the “client” does not know what they want in terms of outcomes or results. Without a specific quantifiable definition of success, it becomes very difficult to select on past successes and draw the comparisons to whether or not your candidate/vendor can deliver your expected outcomes in the future. Without a definition of what success looks like in the future, most executives and managers fall back on the tribal approach of making selections based on prior experience.

Using prior experience fails often, but it's safe. It's comfortable. It's what we've always done. And it's CYA. If the candidate, vendor, or agency fails, everyone can point at the fact that they had the “right” prior experience – therefore the executive responsible for making the decision should not be held accountable for the failure. NOT defining future success for selection decision-making and NOT using it in the selection process is a wonderful technique of absolving yourself of accountability.

Using past success or performance is scary for most executives since they are uncomfortable putting their necks on the line to define future outcomes (and possibly being held accountable for communicating what they plan to do), and they've never been formally trained in how to validate past successes and use it to predict future success.

You state this eloquently when mentioning that companies are very slow to adopt to change because the entire “system” gives too much value to past experience – which is very conservative, cautious, and the antithesis of change.


If you would like to read the full article, please click the link below:

Is Experience in Media and Advertising Overrated?

What are your thoughts about changing your company culture from an over-reliance on past experience in selection criteria to focusing more on past success or performance?

Do you believe that the tribal approach of an over-reliance on past experience is inherently conservative, stifling, and cautious? Do you believe it limits or hampers creativity, imagination, and innovation?

Barry Deutsch

P.S. Download a copy of our 8-point Hiring Self-Assessment to determine if your hiring “selection” process (and you can use this as an extension to other decision making about suppliers, vendors, consultants, coaches, service firms) is capable of finding and engaging with top talent.

Barry Deutsch

About the Author

Barry Deutsch is a founding Partner of IMPACT Hiring Solutions, co-author of "You're NOT the Person I Hired", and "This is NOT the Position I Accepted". Barry is an award-winning international speaker, retained executive recruiter, and expert on hiring and retaining top talent, and executive job search.


  1. Barry: Excellent article; as always. Thank you! You make an excellent point here about the over-reliance on experience. We just published our recent research on experience as a predictor of success as an elite level professional coach (NFL, MLB, and NFL), and our findings support your points here. Simply because one played in the NFL, for example, does not appear in anyway to be a requirement for success as an NFL coach. In fact, only about 30% of current NFL coaches have NFL playing experience. Being a great player does not require the same skill set for being a great coach. I see the same erroneous thinking in businesses I work with: because this person has been our best sales person we will promote her/him to sales manager. Being a manager of sales people does not use the same skill set one needed to be successful in sales. To reinforce your point: hire the person who has been a successful manager, not the person who has been a success in something else. Keep up the good work Barry!


Speak Your Mind


CommentLuv badge

This blog is kept spam free by WP-SpamFree.