Is the need for experience over-rated in recruitment?

expI get that the majority of recruitment agencies want experience when they hire a consultant. If I were looking for someone for my business I would ideally want someone with years of experience in my sector and a ready made network of contacts – plug in an go. Lovely jubbly.

Lovely jubbly it may be… but there simply isn’t a conveyor belt of people that fit that profile… and those that do are probably going to be hard to get… and I would likely be paying a premium for them.

So what is my next option? I look for someone slightly less experienced. Not five years but let’s say three… or two… call it 18 months. As long as they ‘have experience’. That might present a few more options, but still no guarantees I’ll be able to get that… and if I do, I’ll probably still need to pay overs. That’s just the reality of any candidate short market.

Eventually I find someone though… and I’m pretty chuffed because with that experience they can just plug in and go… right?

Maybe… but you might also realise that the experience you felt so vital isn’t really worth a lot. In fact they have been so poorly trained, or not trained at all, or have been used to working in a very different way that you need to de-program them and start again. And if they have come from a competitor there may be a restraint clause that stops them working in the sector anyway.

They may as well have never recruited before!

Here’s an alternative.

Forget experience, or at least don’t make it your priority. Focus on behaviours, attitudes, personality, transferable skills… you know… all the things that actually make someone good at this job. Then train them… your way. If you can’t do it yourself get someone else to… use the money you saved on their salary to send them on a training course.

Last year we helped an agency that had been struggling to hire the experienced recruiters they thought they needed. We encouraged them to consider candidates without recruitment experience, and they hired three rookies who we then helped them to train. Whilst one didn’t work out, nine months later the other two are up and running and billing very well. Compare that with another agency that refuse to budge on their need for experience… and are still looking for someone.

Of course, in a lot of scenarios experience is justifiably required. But a lot of the time, especially at the more junior end, it really isn’t – it’s just perceived to be… it’s required ‘just because.’  If all you are asking for is a little bit of experience, say 12 months, then you really probably don’t need it at all.

Sure there is a risk in bringing someone into recruitment who has never done it before. But I would prefer to take that cheaper risk, and back myself to turn that rookie into something good, than leave a desk empty for months and then pay double for someone just because they had X years of experience.

Luke Collard



One thought on “Is the need for experience over-rated in recruitment?

  1. Mitch Sullivan on Reply

    Trouble is Luke, most smaller agencies don’t have the resources to train inexperienced new recruiters. Sometimes they don’t have the resources to manage them either, but that’s another story.

    Instead they rely on picking up the people who either failed at, or hated working at, agencies like Hays and Michael Page.

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