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Experience or Attitude? What to look out for in the Selection Process

Calvin Cassar is Human Resources & Administration Manager at Mizzi Motors Limited. He holds particular interest and expertise in recruitment, assessment and quantitative analyses having gained exposure in these through academic as well as work experiences. Calvin Cassar is Human Resources & Administration Manager at Mizzi Motors Limited. He holds particular interest and expertise in recruitment, assessment and quantitative analyses having gained exposure in these through academic as well as work experiences.

The gospels give an account of how Jesus went about to selecting his closest circle of followers, and the persons he was envisaging as holding the potential to lead his church. Analysing the episode with a utilitarian lens, one can see how Jesus eschewed selecting persons holding prior experience in preaching, healing or rhetoric, but instead opted to recruit persons who worked in a seemingly distant industry (fishing) but which he saw as presenting attitudes and characteristics relevant to his plan. Analysing retrospectively, his “fishers of men” were persons with weaknesses but also with key attributes such as loyalty, perseverance, and tenacity.

 In the account, Jesus appears to place greater value on attitude and personality characteristics, rather than relevant experience in a similar role. Within the organisational context and in recruitment in particular, debate arises on the relative value to be placed on the two factors. In the ideal recruitment scenario, the company or selecting committee, carries out a rigorous screening exercise of a set of prospective candidates, ending up with one person (or the required number of persons) holding the relevant experience and the right attitude for the job. On a practical level, however, such an outcome tends to be more the exception rather than the rule, as often the recruiter ends up making compromises in specific areas  When this is the case, it is not uncommon for persons involved in the selection process to debate on what to give more value to, experience or attitude?

In this article the relative value of experience and attitude will be discussed with the aim of identifying when and where one should place emphasis. There is value in both, so it thereby becomes important to determine what is gained and what is lost by expressing the specific preference.

Work experience has been defined as “the time or period which a person has spent in a role or task” (Cambridge Dictionaries, 2015). In discussing work experience, one can also differentiate between within role experience, (for example, when a person moves from a human resources position to another human resources role) and within industry experience (for example, a person moving to a human resources position in the automotive industry, having worked in a human resources role in the automotive industry) (Motowidlo and Van Scotter, 1994).

Within the organisational context, applicants presenting withinindustry experience are often seen as particularly attractive options as employers and managers perceive that:

• By recruiting a person with experience with a competitor the company will gain an employee capable of performing and achieving results faster than if it were to hire a person without this experience.

• As an ancillary to this, training costs are perceived as being lower, as in part this will be covered by the baggage the new employee brings with him or her.

• Recruiting a person with experience and from within the same industry will deprive resources from a competitor, possibly allowing gains to be made on the market.

While prior experience can be of value to an organisation, this generally comes at a cost. Experience typically needs to be paid for as most attractive candidates will look for the value to be derived from a possible move, and this often takes the form of financial remuneration.

Additionally, challenges sometimes are encountered as the new employee is typically expected to fit in within an already existing structure and culture, and the prior experience may have shaped expectations as to how these should be.

In his autobiography Steve Jobs (Isaacson, 2011) recounts how he courted John Sculley, who was then president of Pepsi-Cola, so as to become CEO of Apple. Jobs recounts how his background in consumer marketing was key for Apple at the time and he perceived that this could be of value to the organisation. Although the relationship between Jobs and Sculley turned sour over time, the latter was still able to increase sales at Apple from $800 million to $8 billion in his ten year spell, and he contributed by making key product and marketing decisions. Top calibre experience within a corporate framework proved instrumental in achieving these results. 

The Value of Attitude

Attitude is being defined within this context as the a set of evaluations of one’s job that constitute one’s feelings toward, beliefs about, and attachment to one’s job (Judge and Kammeyer-Mueller, 2012).

In a sense companies recruiting on the basis of attitude, appear to do so as a consequence of placing value on potential rather than immediate knowledge or skills (Gottfredson, 1997).

The gains to be made by recruiting on the basis of attitude include:

• the possibility of moulding the person based on company requirements as well as company culture.

• the return to be obtained from a high potential person in the long run.

• the cost savings in salary paid, at least in the initial stages, when compared to hiring a person with experience.

• the widened pool for selection purposes, allowing greater flexibility in the recruitment process and decision making.

A strong training and on-boarding process can help assist in the strategy of recruiting personnel based on attitude as training can help bridge lacunae in skills and competencies that the persons might bring to the table.

Tesla Motors is one of the fastest growing start-ups in the United States and a success story in the automotive industry; the company was founded in 2003 by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning and in slightly more than 10 years it went on to become worth $25 billion, roughly half of the valuation of General Motors (Tesla, 2014). The company needed to grow at a rapid pace and often faced significant skill shortages in technical areas. As a result in part because of need, but also as set in the human resources strategy, the company opted to recruit persons with experience from outside the automotive sector. This led to a flurry of contributions and ideas from persons whose mind set which was not shaped by prior experience as to how a car company should be run. This has allowed the company to grow quickly on the global market, and with the possibility of taking on board talent that has provided an alternative perspective to that laid out by its competitors in a relatively saturated market.

Conclusion

Overall, contingency is key and organisations should make employment decisions based on their own business requirements. At the same time, it is important for the decision makers to realise what the implications of their decisions are, in such a way as to allow the persons involved to take an informed decision. Irrespective of the value placed on the within industry experience and attitude continuum, companies should strive towards achieving sound technical recruitment processes based on a methodical understanding of their requirements, and a structured assessment of the candidates applying for the job.

Experience and attitude are not mutually exclusive in applicants but when a compromise is called for, it is important to realise what would be gained and lost in the process. Human resources professionals often act as fishers of men (and women), and they should be well aware of how they manage their processes in order to achieve the intended outcomes.

Synopsis

By recruiting a person with experience with a competitor the company will gain an employee capable of performing and achieving results faster than if it were to hire a person without this experience. While prior experience can be of value to an organisation, this generally comes at a cost.

When recruiting experienced people, challenges sometimes are encountered as the new employee is typically expected to fit in within an already existing structure and culture, and the prior experience may have shaped expectations as to how theseshould be.

Gains to be made by recruiting on the basis of attitude rather than experience include the possibility of moulding the person based on company requirements as well as company culture.

Recruiting people from outside the industry makes gaining alternative perspectives to the status quo possible.

References

Cambridge Dictionaries Online: http://dictionary.cambridge. org/dictionary/british/work-experience [Accessed 23 January 2015].

Gottfredson, L. S. (1997). Why g matters: The complexity of everyday life. Intelligence, 24, 79-132.

Isaacson, W. (2011). Steve Jobs. New York : Simon & Schuster.

Judge, Timothy A.; & Kammeyer-Mueller, John D. (2012). “Job Attitudes”. Annual Review of Psychology 63, 341–367.

Tesla Motors, (2014). About Tesla, Tesla Motors. [Available online at: http://www.teslamotors.com/about [Accessed 20 December 2014].

Van Scotter, J., & James, R. (1994) Evidence that task performance should be distinguished from contextual performance.

Journal of Applied Psychology, 79, 475-480.

 

 

Last modified onFriday, 10 April 2015 10:19

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