Experience required. (Are you sure?)

The catch-22 of needing experience to get a job, and needing the job to get the experience, has been coming up fairly often in a few conversations I’ve had with managers lately.

It was also a hot topic in the Q&A portion of that talk I gave a couple of weeks back to the Hogan Entrepreneurs. Christopher Bailey just mentioned it on Alchemy too, and he offers some good suggestions on overcoming this hurdle when you’re job hunting.

Executive selection assistance (based on talent assessment) is one of the little-known, but fairly frequently used services that I offer at Say Leadership Coaching, and it’s a very satisfying one for me, bullish as I am about the need to reinvent work. Reinvention often can start with the hiring process itself in very effective ways.

I love having the opportunity to work with HR offices because I generally find they are unaware of their own potential. My motives are put out in plain sight: I want to help them break old habits and create new and better ones, and I want to see them get excited and energized again.

When I’m hired to help a company select the right person for a key vacancy, this entire subject of “the value of quality experience” is always discussed, for I need to get a good read on what the firm’s expectations are. And inevitably I end up cautioning them: Be careful what you wish for.

Is the experience someone has gained elsewhere really what you want? When you are hiring someone this important (and every hire is important) what do you want? You see this one word — Experience — is a catch-all kind of word, and we need to break it down.

[I should stop for a moment here and point out that I’m talking about hiring supervisors, managers at all levels and executives, and not about filling task-oriented positions.]

In the service I provide, coaching comes with the hiring assistance. After someone is hired, my first-year coaching program is one of their job “perks” so they are set up for the best possible beginning in their new role. Kalā hiki ola; it will be the dawning of a new day for them.

However for me, every interaction with another manager, for whatever reason, is a coaching and learning opportunity. In this process of initially interviewing the firm’s decision-makers (and usually many Human Resources people) about the requirements they have for prospective candidates, coaching conversations happen: they suggest a reinvention of the way the company normally recruits, interviews and selects. We talk about the questions they ask, and more importantly, the ones they don’t ask, such as,

1. “If you are chosen for this position, what exactly are you planning to do with it, and why is it important to you?” (Managing with Aloha: What’s your Ho‘ohana?)

2. “What is the relationship you expect to have here with our employees?” (MWA: How do you Ho‘ohanohano?)

3. “Exactly how will you work with them?” (MWA: How do you share your Aloha and what is your Kuleana?)

4. “How do you expect us to work with you so you will be able to perform well?” (MWA: Why choose our ‘Ohana in Business? What do you already know about us?)

You might notice that none of those questions specifically ask about experience. For that matter, they don’t ask much at all about the candidate’s past.

This is my mana‘o (belief about) experience:

A manager’s past experience is only relevant in how effective it’s been in cultivating the habits they will still employ in managing other people going forward.Someone’s experience may or may not be a good gauge of just how much practice they’ve had with employing strengths, bringing good values to business practices, assembling dynamic teams, enabling learners, empowering Mea Ho‘okipa, and evangelizing about vision. Managing people is situational, individual, and highly personal: there are very few carbon-copy tactics that are guaranteed to work with whoever you are managing. Great managers value those differences and thrill to the diversity.

Said another way, experience in a manager needs to be looked at through the lens of who this person is and wants to be, not who they were. About the only thing I want to assess about their past experience is if they chose it well, i.e. it utilized their strengths, and it was a value match. Now they are ready for a leadership breakthrough. [Related post: Strengths and Values.]

So those new habits I mentioned earlier, those I want to create in Hiring Offices everywhere, essentially revolve around three things in their recruitment, interview, and selection strategies, all of which I talk about pretty frequently here on this blog:

1) employing strengths and managing around weaknesses,

2) matching personal values with company mission, and

3) using relationships to create cataclysmic effects with optimizing those strengths and values.

The coaching language I actually use has to do with Ho‘ohana (working with purpose and intent) and ‘Imi ola (seeking your best possible life in [this company’s] business environment).

People can end up with experience that is little more than excess baggage: At some point they were ill advised into gathering up experience that just wasn’t relevant for the challenges they will now face as managers and leaders. If we are to reinvent work, we need to do so with a fresh outlook, and unwavering belief in the capacity people have to excel and do better.

For me, experience will never count as heavily as a vision of optimism, and the intention a person has to manage with Aloha.

Book Excerpt:
The Introduction to Managing with Aloha.