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Why Experience Matters

There are several potential pitfalls when trying to predict how a person will perform in the future – learn some of the critical when hiring experts.

03/03/2021 Helle Førgaard, Vice President International Business
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Companies need skilled people to mitigate these potential errors and create efficient teams to reduce the risks and increase their projects' quality and speed. This need for experienced people means that the competition for getting expert performers is continually growing.

What can you expect to learn from this article?

  • 1

    What indicators besides intelligence and conscientiousness are necessary for predicting performance in IT consultants.

  • 2

    The pitfalls that can occur when predicting performance.

  • 3

    When predicting performance, certainty is most likely unobtainable.

Performance Indicators

For many years, recruitment companies have been using a combination of Personality Tests and Intelligence Tests to help assess candidates.

When studying such tests' predictive power, we find that you will achieve approximately 65% predictability. Two indicators which are the most relevant indicators for future performance are A) Intelligence and B) Conscientiousness. However, although 65% predictability is 15% better than a coin toss, it still leaves us with a great deal of uncertainty.

The single best predictor of performance is to do a case that simulates the actual task as much as possible. Not surprisingly, if you show that you can do the job in a test, it is a good predictor of your ability to do the job in reality.

Unfortunately, it is not always possible to have candidates do a relevant test case. That is why we highly recommend doing reference checks, where you interview former employers about the candidate's experience.

But when doing the reference checks, you need to know whom to talk to, what to ask for, and how to interpret the answers you get. And still, if you get this right, it can be difficult for the references to find time for an interview.

Therefore, we recommend that companies test the candidates on the following:

  • Personality: especially conscientiousness

  • Cognitive ability: especially a combination of speed and quality in problem-solving

  • Technical skills: educational level and certifications

  • Consultative skills: the ability to work with others, perform under pressure, etc.

  • Experience: how well and how often has the candidate actually done something that simulates what you need them to do

Pitfalls

  • 1: The Dunning Kruger effect and Imposter Syndrome

    As described by two American psychologists, David Dunning and Justin Kruger, people have the fallacy of overestimating their logic, grammar, and sense of humor - and often when they are in the lower quartiles.

     

    In the same way, candidates tend to oversell their competencies - to look skilled or avoid seeming inadequate. On the other hand, people with excellent knowledge and outstanding achievements tend to suffer from Imposter Syndrome and underestimate their competencies and successes. Hence, this contradiction is a two-edged sword.

     

    When asking someone about their skill-level, people with few skills or a low skill-level will tend to evaluate their abilities better than what they can deliver in reality. And on the contrary, people with a high skill-level tend to understand the complexities of their skills, what they don't comprehend, and their improvement areas.

     

    Even though this self-insightful ability to know one's strengths and weaknesses is key to high performance, experts tend to underestimate their capabilities' rarity and attractiveness and neglect their abilities as ordinary - or even inferior.

     

    With over 30 years of experience as agents for high-end IT professionals, we see this tendency repeatedly in how candidates describe themselves in their CVs. We often see candidates overestimate their abilities in certain areas but fail to deliver in tests. And in the same way, experts overlook the potential value of their capabilities - and, e.g., omit going freelance as a career.

  • 2: Mistaking number of years for experience

    We tend to overvalue the number of years a person has done something. The number of years is not in itself experience. If you have done the same task for many years, you will surely be very good at that specific task, but you will not have learned much along the way. Experience is something you gain when you encounter difficulties and challenges and manage to find solutions. It is about developing and learning.

     

    Too often, we see that number of years becomes a criterion - and a definition - for selecting candidates. This definition is apparent as it is an effortless way of choosing selection criteria for a role. However, unless you dive into the quality and challenges during the years of a candidate's career, this parameter is futile. Doing something for a long time is not necessarily the same as being experienced or good at it.

     

    But what is the 10,000 hours rule about, you might ask? The 10,000 hours rule is not a rule, per se. It is more a concept developed by Swedish psychologist Anders Ericsson and made famous by writer Malcolm Gladwell in his book "Outliers".

     

    Gladwell himself has, during the years, underlined that the concept had been utterly misunderstood. In reality, Anders Ericsson wanted to say that there is simply no shortcut to becoming an expert in something. Excellence comes with putting in the hours and working towards becoming better. The hours alone are not sufficient for achievement.

     

    One needs to practice the right skills - in the right way - to achieve excellence. Quality of practice is just as important as hours of practice to achieve greatness.

     

    As agents for IT professionals, we look beyond certificates and years of experience - and look at what gained capabilities from one's years in the field.

  • 3: The representative heuristic – judging the book by its cover

    The third pitfall is called the representative heuristic. In layman's terms, this means "judging the book by its cover". When it comes to recruiting or predicting performance, this heuristic plays a role in that we tend to judge people on our perception of how someone "should" look or speak to fit a particular position. Let us say that we are hiring a Manager of some sort. If a candidate then walks in wearing a spotless suit, has the right haircut, and is wearing shiny shoes, i.e., he looks like a stereotypical manager.

     

    The tendency is that we have already formed the opinion about this person potentially being a good manager. Secondly, we are subconsciously using the confirmation-bias, meaning that we seek - or only attain - the information that helps us confirm our initial belief that this person as a good manager is true. So, our brain triggers us to confirm what we already believe - and neglect what goes against our beliefs.

     

    Perhaps you cannot recognize this pattern. And maybe you are right, but most likely, you are not. It seems that most people's minds work exactly like this, and understanding that this is how our minds work is essential for our ability to "remove" ourselves from these biases and take a more objective view. For more on this topic, you should read Nobel Prize-winner Daniel Kahneman's famous book "Thinking Fast and Slow".

Summary

In short, predicting who will succeed in a specific job role is not a trivial exercise. And very rarely, you will be able to predict it with certainty. Like most other life skills, learning how to recruit Expert Performers and understand how to match them to a specific role takes years to learn. One needs a combination of tools to support the process, understand the development of Expert Performance and how you recognize it. Thus, one thing is more important than all the rest. Real experience. The documented ability to perform complex tasks with high quality, in a team, with respect for others repeatedly. That is real Expert Quality, and that is why experience matters.

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