Why Skills And Experience Are Irrelevant When Hiring

One reason hiring fails is because people focus on the person's skills and experience, and then if everyone likes the person, they are the right person and will be successful. This is not true.  I have asked thousands of CEOs and key executives if they have ever hired someone with an excellent resume, that had all the right skills and experience, that the interviewing team really (I mean really) liked and once that person came on board the person fell flat on their face within 6 months. Usually about 99% reply, “Yes.” How could this happen if skills and experience are so relevant? The fact is, just because a person has all the right skills and experience and everyone likes them, that doesn't mean that they will be successful. These things are important but having the right skills and experience isn't what is relevant when making a good hire. What is relevant when making a good hire is whether or not the person can apply these skills and experience in your organization. Can they apply them to achieve the results you need? Can they apply them effectively in your culture? If they can't, they are not the right candidate for your organization.

Skills and experience are simply tools every candidate brings to the job. The ability to use them effectively is what matters. I know many people that have golf clubs in their car and have been playing golf for 20 years, can swing the club over 100 miles per hour, and have taken so many lessons that if an MBA in golf existed they would have one. Even with all of these skills and experience they still aren't on the PGA tour. Why? Because having skills and experience is different from applying them. When hiring, it is important that the person you choose can apply these effectively in your organization and your culture.

One problem is that when we define things around skills and experience the interviewing process often becomes focused on these rather than the real job. For example, if you were hiring a CFO, most job descriptions would define the ideal person as a CPA, 10+ years experience, 5 years industry experience, knowledge of GAAP, financial reporting, cash management experience, good leadership skills, etc. All of these are important, but not what you really want to hire. What you really might want is a CFO that can improve cash flow by 10%, implement a cash management system, reduce overhead costs by x% within x number of months and have accurate financial statements within three days of the close. This is the real job and requires the person to  have the right skills and experience or they could not achieve these goals. When you are ready to make your next hire, instead of focusing on the person's background, focus on how they would apply those skills and experience to achieve the results you are seeking. Ask yourself this, “If you hired someone with all the skills and experience listed above, what are the odds they could achieve the results listed?”

Just because a person has the skills and experience you seek doesn't mean they can deliver the results you need.  But if they can deliver the results you seek that means they have the skills and experience you need. I don't know if that is 10 years, 8 years, or 15 years, and it doesn't matter, they have enough to deliver the results.

Join the other 10,000 CEOs, key executives, and HR professionals who have downloaded a FREE copy of our best-selling book, “You're NOT The Person I Hired.” Just CLICK HERE for your FREE eBook.

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I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Brad Remillard

bradremillard

About the Author

Brad Remillard 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". Brad is an award-winning international speaker, retained executive recruiter, and expert on hiring and retaining top talent, and executive job search.

Comments

  1. Mu Lu • Interesting article with novel ideas. Hope this is not the tactic used by the author to draw eyeballs. However, wonder how many people here share the views in this article. The author fails to tell us if skills and experience are not relevant when hiring, what are? Interpersonal skills (or corporate culture, means pretty much the same) maybe, but is that the only thing that matters? If a skilled and experienced person has an excellent resume, doesn’t that mean he/she did pretty well previously in other companies? If a skilled and experienced person cannot apply effectively his/her skills in his/her new position, shouldn’t the top management find out why so, especially when more than one skilled and experienced new hires have the same issue (case is not isolated or independent).

    This article answers, indirectly from a different perspective, intentionally or unintentionally, why so many aerospace and defense R&D programs failed to “deliver results” on schedule and within budget in the past decade. One contributing factor, in my view, is that “Skills And Experience Are Irrelevant When Hiring”.

    Welcome to visit my business website at: htttp://www.qualemas.com

    • MuLu;
      I do tell you exactly what is relevant. I will state it again. What is relevant is the ability to apply the skills and experience effectively to achieve the results desired. It is not about having skills and experiences it is the ability apply them or use them that matters.

      • Brad Remillard,

        You did not answer my questions though. You title indicates skills and experience are irrelevant when hiring. Do you really mean so? If you mean the ability to deliver results is relevant, how can he/she do so without skills and experience?

        It seems a lot of companies are introducing politics into business. No wonder this country is more and more political everywhere.

        Mu Lu

        • MuLu

          Twice in the article I specifically say skills and experience are IMPORTANT. Something can be important and still not be relevant. Obviously an engineer must know something about engineering to do the job. But why can two engineers have the exact same skills and experiences and one be successful and one not. They both have the skills? Because one can apply them better than the other to achieve the performance required. That is why skills are not relevant when hiring. Focus should not be on the skills and experiences, focus should be on how they will utilize them to achieve the results or solve the problems.

    • Beatriz Garcés says:

      Hi, I´m interested in writing an essay about to hire people with a lot of experience whom I have to pay more or a worker with less experience whom I could pay less. I didn´t find exact articles about it. I would appreciate your help.

  2. Good article!!! =)

    I am reading a book that states similar ideas in several chapters: Emotional Intelligence (by D. Goleman).

    Thanks!

  3. Devos Dirk says:

    Hello Brad,

    you made the same observations as I did in my professional experience. Skills and experience are a prerequisite, they are a necessary but insufficient condition to be successful in the company. Putting skills and experience into operational practice and obtaining results only happens when you obtain reliable action from other people within the company. Obtaining this reliable action depends on the interpersonal abilities of the individual.
    When selecting candidates on the basis of skills and experience, you select profiles, not people. I have stopped years ago “selecting profiles”, and when hiring, I test the interpersonal abilities of the candidate, not through psychological tests, through real time interaction and evaluating the potential future behavior when presented with the real people in the future position. This of course requires me to understand the interpersonal abilities of the future (N+1), (N-1) and colleagues, which is what I do before accepting an assignment. Pretty good and reliable results as a consequence.

    Best regards

    • Hi Devos

      I think you’re bang on the money. I would encourage new or inexperienced interviewing managers to take the time to check the quality of their interview skills – and until they are more sure of the outcomes, invest in some L&D and maybe some testing.

      Understanding the full picture (the ‘now’ and the ‘future’) is essential.

  4. Shawn Miller says:

    The title of your article is, I believe a bit misleading. “Skills and experience are simply tools every candidate brings to the job” jumped out at me when reading your article. Some folks do NOT have skills and experience to bring to a particular job.

    However, in the CFO example, you assume that the individual DOES have the minimum skills and experience required, and you are correct–the real question is whether he or she has the ability to apply them in a specific environment (e.g. YOUR organization).

    Perhaps the successful candidate also has the ability to perform due diligence to ensure that the potential employer has committed sufficient resources to support achievement of stated goals.

    • Shawn:
      All candidates bring some skills and experiences to the job. The issue as you state can they effectively apply them in YOUR organization. It is not the having that counts, it is the application that matters.

      • In some cases, it may take a talent, skilled and experienced engineer only several weeks to solve a challenging problem, but it may take another person or a team several months or years to straight things out. I have seen a team of 5 on a major aircraft program spend several years conducting analysis to predict the ultimate load of a system and get a lot of results. It was not until a skilled and experienced engineer join the team did they realize all the results they previously obtained were essentially useless because they had assumed a wrong failure mechanism. And by then they had worked for 2 years using the wrong methodology. So skills and experience do matter in some cases.

        Deliver results is one thing, deliver the correct results is another thing, and deliver the correct results in a timely manner is even more different.

        • So which is the better talent, the one that solves the problem in weeks or the one that can’t solve the exact same problem for years. Which engineer do you want working for you. Both have the skills and experiences. One can apply them better than the other to solve the problem. So again it isn’t the having that counts it is the utilization of the skills that matters.

      • Brad,

        I found an early reply of mine was deleted / moderated. We differ because we look the issue from different perspectives. You see it from a CEO’s perspective while I see it from an engineer’s perspective.
        In some cases, it may take a talented, skilled and experienced engineer just several weeks to solve a challenging problem, while it may take another person or team several months or years to straight things out. I have seen a team of 5 on a major aircraft problem spending several years conducting analysis to predict the ultimate load of a connection system for FAA certification and delivering results constantly on a snail’s pace (serious software convergence problem due to excessive plastic deformation at contact areas). It was not until a talented, skilled and experienced engineer joined the team did they realize that the results they had delivered were nearly useless since they had assumed a wrong failure mechanism. So in some cases, skills and experience do matter.
        Deliver results is one thing, deliver correct results is another, and deliver correct results in a timely manner is even different.
        This is my last post here. Will not post again and bother you. Good luck!

        Mu

        • MuLu

          I don’t know what you are referring to. We never delete any comments unless they are SPAM, use foul language or are just plain rude. The fact is I even responded to two of your posts.

  5. Hi Brad,

    Great attention grabber – but I too think your title is misleading. I opened the article because I thought – “you have got to be kidding”! An alternative title could be: “Skills Mean Nothing if Applied Inappropriately”

    However, I read the comments from readers, and your replies with interest – and I think most are saying the same thing. We agree that it’s important to have a skill, or skills. However, it’s equally important (if not more important) how you apply those skills, the relevancy they have to YOUR organization, and the outcomes achieved from their application for YOUR organization.

    Key also is the ‘fit’ of the candidate to an organizations culture (and visa versa). If the fit is poor – there is no way any employee (or business) will achieve their full potential.

    Now let’s turn to the employer of the skilled person. They too have a responsibility to afford the employee the opportunity to apply skills appropriate to the role and KPA’s – not constrain or sabotage them. Additionally, an employee needs to have sufficient ‘stretch’ (room to grow) to ensure continued engagement within the business. High achievers require a challenge and a sense of achievement.

    The topic is a great one – and one I hope employers, recruiters and candidates take seriously during their due diligence.

  6. Colin Lincoln says:

    When I was leaving the armed forces I had a number of interviews for middle management positions. Considering I had a prior background in administration, I applied for these roles coupled with experiences I had had in the forces.
    So why when I asked a question or made an observation, did so many senior managers seem to slide under their desks? They were hiring to resolve a problem and thus once solved would allow the company growth and prosperity. I was offering the resolution and much more in terms of future goals. Yet their position seemed, to them, a personal threat somehow.
    In the UK, organisations have become very skill set orientated. On the shop floor unless a particular machine is second nature to someone they are not considered. Senior roles likewise require specifics. Having applied for a logistic role which I not only could fulfil but also exceed in, I was told that the company used a particular software and as I did not know it, sorry! I applied for a quality director role and was told I did not have the specific qualification, even though my experience proved I had trained above this.
    I agree it is the goal that matters, but if hirers cannot see experience in terms of adaptability then organisations will continue to get it wrong.

  7. While I agree with you I am just wondering how can we find out if the candidate that has the exact skills and experience for the advertised position will be able to apply them within the context of our organization without offering him/her the job. Grateful for any practical idea!

    Best regards

    • Easy before you hire them get them to discuss how they would achieve the results in your organization. You don’t care how they achieve results in their last organization. Give them practical assignments, ask for them to solve a problem, make a presentation, give them a small homework assignment that demonstrates how they would achieve the goals, what would their 3, 6 9 month plan be. There are many ways to put the candidate in the job before you hire them.

  8. Gavin Fielding says:

    You’ve really hit the nail on the head here! Time and again I’ve come across people with lots of skills on paper and have lots of courses under their belts yet barely use any of it. All in all, a piece of paper that says you studied something is nothing more than a bill of sale if you don’t actively practice the lessons learned.

    The best senior executives are the one’s who can maximize the potential of their people by identifying the specific skills that need to be brought to bear for a project or task, then assigning the right staff to the job regardless of where they come from in the company. If done correctly it can be very empowering to the staff since it shows that management really does notice individuals and empower them to their maximum potential. This in turn promotes company loyalty.

    Unfortunately the education system is too focused on getting that bill of sale into people’s hands for large amounts of money instead of teaching how to embrace the mentality of lifelong active learning. Having said that, those pieces of paper can be useful in opening doors and keeping ones resume on the active pile…

  9. Very true. “All candidates bring some skills and experiences to the job”
    yet it’s not sufficient, it’s not a true indicator of a candidate’s abilities.
    Skills can be learned and mastered while experience is simply repetition.
    True, one could need “repetition” to master but if one has high learning
    abilities then he would not need years(!!) just to master something.

    If an employer really wants the BEST then be courageous not traditional.
    Stereotyping only brings one traditional candidates hopefully with good results
    while being courageous expands one’s horizon that he may have overlooked
    before. Courage allows you to take that next step, to give creativity a chance.
    Bear in mind, in experience, substance is way more important hours.
    And when there’re problems, a need for creativity or innovation…
    it’s the brain that does magic.

    The issue then is… did he make a difference in his organization?
    If one is unemployed- how did he use his time? Are his skills transferable?
    Could he adapt? It’s all about brains, character, elan, adaptability and health…
    and not really skills, experience or even education or being employed.

  10. Sameer Duggal says:

    Hi Brad,

    A very intriguing article indeed, specially for those who are simply filtered out just on the basis of so called “lack of relevant experience & mismatch of skills”, though they may be adaptive and quick learners.

    I agree with most of what you mentioned, but I am left with a couple of questions.

    Can there ever be a full proof hiring solution, ensuring that every person you hire will not succumb under the pressure?
    And, is there a way to test whether a person will be successful in applying the gained experience over the period of his professional life?

    On a more personal level, I think a lot depends on what level are you hiring for. You cannot simple hire a fresh out of school graduate, with no professional experience, for a managerial position. Your article seems justified for people with 3-10 years of experience, because they do posses know-how of professional world and the necessary transferable skills to succeed.

    I might be saying the obvious, but still, you cannot expect an employee to succeed in any role without possessing the analytical mind frame, and a problem solving outlook, making possession of some skills and IQ relevant.

    • Sameer:
      No there will never be a fool proof hiring system. As long as we are dealing with human beings hiring accuracy will never reach 100%. The goal is too dramatically improve the hiring accuracy in companies that don’t have a good system.

      Your second question makes my point. I clearly state (TWICE) that skills and experience ARE important. Just not relevant when hiring. What is important is the ability to apply those skills and experiences. So if the person right out of school doesn’t have management experience then the obviously can’t apply it.

      Finally your last sentence is exactly correct. Just because they have an analytical mind frame and problem solving ability may be important, but it doesn’t mean they will be successful. So when hiring focuses on these traits instead of how they will apply those two traits to deliver the performance that is required, hiring often fails. It is the ability to utilize these that counts, NOT THE FACT THAT THEY HAVE THEM.

  11. Ralph Boccella says:

    I understand the author’s point, but I think “irrelevant” may be misleading. Skills and experience are absolutely critical in the hiring decision but may be rendered useless if the candidate: lacks a demonstrated history of applying them; has relevant work experience that is irrelevant to the position’s industry, culture, or business challenges ; or, has a management or work style that is incompatible.

    Yes, skills and experience can be rendered irrelevant if the interview process fails to probe the issues (among many other factors) I mention above. There are a number of tried and true interview techniques and assessments that are available to hiring executives. The author’s book is one of many.

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