Employers: Pre-Existing or Lump of Clay?

To any employers on the board: in a perfect world, would you rather have someone walk in the door that has some sort of experience, although not exactly the experience you’re looking for or would you rather have someone that was a blank slate so you can train that person as you wish?

This is a clunky question, but what if you were hiring an accountant and you had two candidates: *one that was previously a tax lawyer and the other that’s got rudimentary schooling/training for accountancy? Which one would you rather have and why? Assume that wages would be the same for both, then assume that the wages would be different.

*Bad example quickly approaching! Fill in with an example of your own if it’s more illustrative.

It’s a bad example because you are comparing a JD, possibly with a CPA against what would be an entry leval candidate.

As an employer, I can tell you that the answer will depend on the type of company. For example, a small accounting practice might only be able to hire very senior people who can start working right away and who already have client contacts. A Big-4 accounting firm like Deloitte & Touche or KPMG will routinely hire armies of accounting majors with little to no experience.

I’ll take experience over blank slate any day. You can train anyone, but those with previous experience – even if the experience is not what you’re looking for – have more resources to draw on, so-to-speak. They’ve already learned how to perform in one arena, and can apply lessons learned there to their new environment. They tend to be better at managing time, knowing what questions to ask, and recognizing patterns in how things work.

I know I’m being very general here, but it’s hard to get more specific. The best I can do is offer this:

At my old job, my bosses were all about hiring the cheapest possible workforce. We had any number of interns (college kids), and salaried employees tended to be hired straight out of school. That said, we did hire two people who were professionals from different industries. I can tell you that hands down, the fresh-out-of-school types required a TON more time, effort and general handholding to get them up to speed than the two who came from other backgrounds.

Your question is too broad. There are schemes out there where having someone with experience is the ONLY way to go. Like hiring an HR manager. You wouldn’t want someone with no experience. However, hiring for sales you would want a recent college grad who you can train and mold into a better saleman, then after time make them a manager etc…etc…

Rephrase your question to an industry and it may be a little easier to get some responses.

I’m a director at a semi-large environmental company. When I go to hire an accountant, I want someone with experience because we are an established company, someone with experience will know how to handle difficult tax situations, or non-typical accounting situations. These instances and experience can only be garnered through experience. But when I hire a teacher for our summer camp, I will hire someone with little to no experience or other qualities that will shine through for that postion.


That’s what I figured, more or less. Someone that’s had experience, albeit not your kind of experience knows what the workplace is like.

Is this the same when we assume that it’s not a person that’s fresh out of college that’s the inexperienced one?

I generally prefer to hire entry-level candidates and bring them along myself; yes, they require more training, but they also have no bad habits to break, no “that’s not the way we did it at…” arguments, and they’re often more eager. If I’m hard up and need someone to jump in and start working with minimal oversight right away, then I look for some experience.

In other words, it depends on why I’m hiring.

For an entry-level job, I look for raw talent and attitude. That’s why it’s an entry-level position. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t take someone with experience in a different field, but they’d have to impress me with (especially) their attitude, just like someone fresh out of college.

OTOH if I’m hiring for a mangerial position, I’d rather have someone with previous managerial experience, even if it’s in a somewhat different area. Managing is a talent all by itself.

I have traditionally sought out programmers who had the experience that I was looking for.

Lately I’ve been thinking I might prefer entry-level developers that I can train as I want.

I’ve found that experienced developers will often be set in their ways and will think that if something isn’t done in the way they think it should be done, then it is wrong. I’ve had too many developers piss away time re-writing working code because they didn’t like how it was written.

It hugely depends. This is the kind of thing strategic HR looks at for a specific position and organization. Thus, a big consulting firm, where they have a lot of senior people to use as resources and are generally concerned about the “future senior people” being fully on board with the corporate culture, will hire a lot of new grads.

In general my recommendation is to look for someone who has previous experience successfully doing what you will hire them to do. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, as the saying goes.