Exposure v Experience – the better way to identify capable, adaptable staff

[Editor’s note – text edited 30/08/2018]

Can We Improve Our Success Rate in Recruiting or Promoting Individuals?

How often do we find ourselves writing phrases such as, “the successful applicant will possess 4 – 5 years experience in the leisure industry …”.   Quite a few individuals will have such experience but for many it will have been passive i.e. things were happening around them or to them but they were not an active driver of or participant in the situation.  As a result, they are not likely to have learned much about actually leading or managing such situations.  Examining exposure to situations v experience is a more reliable way of not excluding able candidates.  Using experience as a filter conditions us to discount individuals, who would be effective in the role, because we do not take the time to consider what is really required to perform the role effectively?

Try A Sounder Approach

A more innovative way of defining what is required to carry out a role effectively is to focus on what type of situations should the individual have been exposed to and actively involved in?  That approach should give you a wider pool of talented individuals who have skills etc. which can be transferred effectively into the context of your organisation.

Does that not carry a risk?  Yes, but we should be prepared to give individuals a break and allow them the opportunity to rise to the challenges.  Staff who are given such a break will become ambassadors for your company and will be keen to make a success of what has been entrusted to them.  In turn, those individuals are likely to give opportunities to others to rise to the challenges of new roles and projects.

So the key message is – give greater weight to exposure rather than experience when interviewing candidates.

How Can You Improve the Success of This Way of Identifying the Right Staff?

First, consider the types of situations to which an individual should have been exposed if they are to develop the skills etc. needed for the role.   Avoid becoming too focused on the particular part of the sector you are in.  Transferable skills will exist in other sectors (except for very specialised skills and applications).  So focus on the nature of the situations that individuals have to address in your roles.

Second, write the advert in a way that clarifies the types of situations to which an individual should have had exposure.  That should help you to avoid the trap of specifying ‘x years of experience’.

Third, describe a role by the exposure requirements.  That will provide you with a source of questions and situations to explore in the interview.  Those will help you to get to the crux of whether or not the individual has the necessary exposure and as important is able to transfer his/her skills and adapt those to your context.

Fourth, provide the successful individual with a rapid orientation to your organisational context and markets.  Encourage them to see that the situations to which they have been exposed to date will enable them to apply that learning in their new role.

Does This Have Application to Young People Seeking a Job? 

Much is made of the lack of work related skills amongst school leavers.  We need to help them and ourselves to view the requirement and their ‘skills’ in a different way.  For example, a school leaver may not have any experience of work when applying for his first full time role.  However, he/she is likely to have been exposed to various situations in their home, school and social life some of which may be of direct relevance to the nature of the job you wish to fill.  Thinking in exposure terms will help managers to avoid writing off youngsters because of a lack of experience.

An example may encourage managers to pursue this approach.  As in many industries, customer/guest relationships are critical.  If recruiting say for  the hospitality/leisure industry, you may be seeking candidates who will project a positive and upbeat attitude towards guests even if the weather is bad or their preferred choice of activity is not available.  An employee who is quick to see alternatives and relate those to the needs of the guests will soon win their respect and additional revenue for the business.   That is the person you need to hire but first you need to have identified that he/she has been exposed to situations and/or skills which produce the qualities you seek.  The exposure approach helps to tease out such attributes.

Next time you are writing a job requirements or advert, cross out the experience phrase and insert the type of situation(s) to which the successful candidate should have been exposed.


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