The fallacy of “years of experience”

The fallacy of “years of experience”

Recruiting and interviewing is, at best, an imperfect process. Some research has even showed that standard interview processes can be as effective as tossing a coin when it comes to predict long term success in a job and a company.

Among the plethora of predictors and qualifiers, recruiters and candidates seem to over-index on years of experience. This is especially heightened in India where candidates go to extreme lengths to add decimals and round up. “I have 7.3 years of experience.”

I have spent many a meeting explaining why this metric is only marginally useful and in the worst case, quite harmful. I don’t disagree that employment tenure is a useful lens to use. All else being the same, someone with more years of experience is likely going to do better in client-facing situations, be more efficient in execution, manage risks better, and create more value for their employers.

However, just because someone has more experience, it does not guarantee the above qualities. In his bestselling book “Outliers”, Michael Gladwell refers to the 10,000 hours rule. This rule states that, to achieve world-class excellence in any field, people must spend a total of 10,000 to reach the top of their field. Most people that did not read the book stop at this number. If so, they may miss a critical element that Gladwell highlights, which is that the total number of hours is only one element. How these hours are spent, and particularly how the practitioner – be they an athlete, musician, artist, doctor, or professional – learns from each practice is critical. Did the person use “deliberate practice”, i.e. were they focused on selecting and improving certain aspects of their craft, or did they just “go with the flow” and repeat the same skill the same way for 10,000 hours? In other words, did they get better or just repeat whatever they knew over and over again? This difference between what I call repeated actions versus true experience building is a fundamental element of success. This is often referred to as having a growth vs. fixed mindset.

At Neal Analytics, some of our top performers have come straight out of college, or they are early in their careers. They bring with them client presence, smarts, empathy, ambition, hard work, and a drive that propels them to always learn and better themselves and therefore raise through the ranks in short order. We also have tenured personnel that keep “moving their feet” and stay ahead of the game. Conversely, we have encountered others with many years under their belt with only mediocre performance. People who just keep on doing what they’ve always done without the drive (one could even say the inner need) to always try to improve, learn, and proactively seek feedback will struggle to grow even if they start with more experience.

It is not the number of years that matters, rather it’s what one accomplishes and learns in those years that is key! A proven growth mindset from one’s early career is often a much better success predictor, especially in very dynamic and changing industries such as the tech industry, than sheer years of experience.

So, my recommendations are:

  • Recruiters: Stop believing that just having more years on a resume will ensure candidate success
  • Candidates: Describe how you were able to achieve more than what was expected of you (in comparison to your peers) and how you ensure you always try to learn from your success and failure, from peers and managers, and from all people, experiences and means: industry articles and blogs, experts in your field, adjacent fields, customers and partners, etc.
  • Employers: Create “fast lanes” for your top performers, don’t be afraid to have someone deserving “race ahead”