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Enthusiasm or experience?

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How do I get experience when fewer and fewer employers are willing to train me?   

How can I learn new skills when employers won’t give me a chance? 

These are questions I’m frequently asked by candidates looking for new opportunities. 

In reverse, many clients have become quite specific about their talent needs as they are operating in lean environments and don’t have surplus resources to help train new people.   It’s a real catch 22 that could leave the business sector very exposed in the future.    

When we think of new employees, we often think about graduates or school leavers looking for their first role.  Generally, these employees may not have a lot of specific work experience but are very enthusiastic to learn. 

Similarly, there is another workforce being left out by employers – conversations I’ve had with new New Zealanders show they are also facing the same dilemma. 

Employers narrowing down their employment choices are missing out on future talent – enthusiastic individuals who just need some great training and nurturing.   

Is there an easy answer to this situation?  Not really, but when I ask clients what is the standout trait that impresses them at interview – what would make them pick one candidate over another – the majority tell me (by a huge margin) that enthusiasm takes the cake every time.

It’s easy to get hung up on qualifications, experience and achievements but don’t forget that when employers are looking for new team members they are also asking themselves: “Will I enjoy working with this person?”

In reality enthusiasm can also be a great risk-reducer.  We all know that you can teach people skills and give them experience but enthusiasm can’t be nurtured. 

Recruiting managers tell us they’d pick a less experienced person with enthusiasm for the role over a more qualified person who appears dry.

Some of this boils down to the opinions of whether the new employee will be fun to work with – potentially raise the energy of the team – but most importantly an enthusiastic person will be very motivated to learn from their mistakes and fix them. Enthusiasm is tangible isn’t it? We also call this trait drive, energy, passion, focus and a host of other terms.

Hiring an inexperienced candidate will be an investment at first. He or she may require a bit of extra training, and will have a slightly steeper learning curve, but it will pay off if the candidate is a right fit for your company. Why? Well here’s a few good reasons:

You can shape the candidate from the start – an inexperienced employee means you can mould them from the start and they generally don’t come to your workplace with too many bad habits.

Inexperience breeds motivation for good performance – inexperienced candidates are often the ones with the highest work ethic (now I know there are some exceptions). They are new and very thankful that someone gave them the opportunity to get their foot in the door.

Enthusiasm drives work – if you hire someone who is hungry for the job rather than just there for the pay check, it will pay off. The most eager employees aren’t always the ones with the most experience.

It’s worth the investment – inexperienced candidates cost less than experienced ones initially but the cost in training dollars will be returned to you three-fold.  Yes, there are some candidates who job hop after they have been trained, but overall it’s my view that when you invest in a candidate, give them a real shot, their loyalty is priceless and enduring.

Ultimately the need for skills over enthusiasm and vice versa will always be situational (even the most enthusiastic person can’t perform heart surgery).  Yet it could be very beneficial to consider the split between experience, knowledge and enthusiasm. Do you really want a robot who can hit the ground running, or someone who may need more support gaining experience but wants to learn because they care and they’re potentially capable?

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About Author

Senga Allen

Human Resource specialist and managing director, Everest Group Ltd Waikato HR Specialists www.everestgroup.co.nz