What’s the first thing people look for when scanning a job ad? Usually, it’s whether they have the required experience to apply. Most of us know that for our resume to even get a look we must demonstrate we’ve done similar work before.
But what if this first and most fundamental hoop employers use to sort out promising candidates from the rest of the pile was actually completely useless? What if job seekers without relevant experience were just as likely to be successful than those with years behind them in similar roles?
It sounds totally outlandish, but that’s exactly what a massive new review of 81 studies found. Simply checking for past experience will tell you next to nothing about how a candidate will perform at your company, study co-author Chad Van Iddekinge insisted in a recent Harvard Business Review interview.
Sorry, it’s totally counterintuitive but it’s also true.
That’s crazy, you might be thinking. What kinds of jobs did this guy and his team look at? The answer is tons of them.
From studies of police officers to sales reps to blue collar workers like sewing machine operators, they sifted through thousands of studies to select 81 with the most relevant data. They then crunched the numbers to see how well past experience predicted future success. The conclusion was surprising but crystal clear.
“We discovered a very weak relationship between pre-hire experience and performance, both in training and on the job. We also found zero correlation between work experience with earlier employers and retention,” Van Iddekinge reports.
What little difference they did see between the performance of experienced and unexperienced new hires was largely in the first three months. Unsurprisingly, people who had done the job before got up to speed more quickly, but they weren’t any better at it over the long haul.
That’s perplexing. How could experience and the learning that should come with it not improve a new employee’s ability to do the job? Van Iddekinge can’t be sure on the basis of this study, but he points out the yawning chasm between doing a job previously and doing it well previously.