How many years experience should a candidate have?


Often our recruitment clients are very specific about how much experience they need candidates to have. They say they want 9 years of experience in one area 5 years of something else and more years of yet another area. Is this really valid?




What do you mean by ‘experience’?


Do you need someone who has many years of experience?

Do you need someone who has many years of experience?

Usually you mean the individual has been there, done it and got the Tee shirt. So they should have ways of handling particular situations effectively. Yes, there are situations where years of experience are great, because the memory is ‘muscle memory’ and you want someone who can do things without thinking, like driving or juggling.



In those cases it does take many repetitions to get it right and for your brain to transfer the skill into a different area.




But there are other ways


Other times, when you have successfully carried out a task or completed a project it’s because you have thought things through and come up with a solution that worked. In that case doing the same thing three times is generally much less of an advantage than having handled three different situations successfully.




Be specific


So if you want people to have had experience, specify what experience you want rather than just specifying a number of years in a particular field.



Don’t assume, just because someone has never done something before, that they won’t be able to do it. Experience is an indicator that they may have the skills, but only if they achieved the results.



Sometimes three or four different small bits of experience or skill add up to the big picture.

Do you need someone who has shown he or she can learn but may not have all the experience?

Do you need someone who has shown he or she can learn but may not have all the experience?

For example, if a candidate has some management experience, even running a charity fund raising event, that plus his or her technical experience coaching customers could mean she could run an implementation team, even though he or she hasn’t run a department like that before.




How do people get experience?


Younger people need the chance to get experience.

Younger people need the chance to get experience.

Lastly a very important point. If you only ever take people with the exact experience of doing the job you are recruiting for, no one would ever be able to move forward because those without experience would never get a job with the opportunity to get the experience.


Is recruitment an art or a science?


Here’s a question I needed to answer recently, along with what store you should set by résumés / CVs and how much experience you should be looking for or if experience even counts at all.


A few principles that I believe are important in recruitment.


Being able to explain


In any recruitment I believe in starting from the position that you should always be able to explain openly and honestly to any candidate why they did or did not get the job. If they failed this includes:

•    What extra skills they would need to get the job
•    What they would need to do differently to get the job



Art or science?


When I am told that recruitment is more of an art than a science, I feel my blood start to boil. This is a sloppy excuse for not letting people know how you have made your decisions.


Some of Helen's art in Cape Cod

Some of Helen’s art in Cape Cod

My old friend Helen McLean is a brilliant artist. We were once at an exhibition together. She asked me which of three paintings I thought was the best. I pointed at the one on the right. She asked me why it was the best. I had no idea. It was just a ‘gut feeling’.


“Would you recognize this man (the one in the painting) if you saw him?” She asked me.


I said I would. She then went on to point out several other features that made that painting quite clearly the best. I was stunned by the experience. In just a few minutes I’d learned a lot about painting. And it all seemed strangely obvious once it was pointed out.





Helen McLean's workshop in Wexford

Helen McLean’s workshop in Wexford

Which is probably what makes her such a wonderful art teacher. (She does run courses in Wexford, if you can go I highly recommend them.) You can see the kind of work she does here: and find out about the classes here:


It’s the same with recruitment.



Recruitment should be about evidence.


If you are clear about what you need, and you measure people’s ability to do it, then you

Font in church from above

Font with mosaic designed by Helen McLean

will be able to let them know how they need to improve in order to get a similar job next time. If you can’t do that, you need to look at your recruitment process, your job description and person specification.


Next time we’ll look at the issues of experience and the CV or resume.