Using smarter criteria than experience for selecting the right candidates?

By Elisabeth Goodman, 24th October 2019

Delegates at a recent RiverRhee course for local companies

The area where RiverRhee works, in Cambridgeshire UK, is a real magnet for talent in the Life Science and IT sectors in particular.  Many of the companies are growing rapidly and there is also fierce competition between the companies.

We all know that the recruitment process can be time-consuming and costly.

Companies will also want to make sure that they are getting a good return on investment on their recruitment cost, and time and money invested in development their staff.  They will also want to keep their turn-over low.

It goes without saying, that the smarter a company’s approach to the selection process, the better their return on investment will be…

A weak correlation between prior experience and future performance

Professor Chad H. Van Iddekinge and his colleagues at Florida State University have some great insights to share with us (Harvard Business Review, Sept-Oct 2019, pp. 34-35) from their review of 81 studies exploring the relationship between prior experience and performance in a new organisation.

They found that there was a very weak correlation between training or on-the-job experience in prior roles, and people’s performance in a new organisation. The performance was measured in various ways, such as annual reviews or sales-based performance.

They also found no correlation between this prior experience and the likelihood that people would stay in their new organisation.

The studies covered 15 out of 23 ‘job families’ in the US – mainly in protective services (police, firefighters) and sales and customer services.  None of the roles were senior executive ones.

So, previous experience is not a good predictor of future performance or retention.

What could be smarter predictors for hiring the right candidates?

Professor Van Iddekinge suggests that the key thing is evidence of the quality or significance of past experience.

Better predictors of future performance could therefore be:

  1. More detailed information about the nature of pre-hire performance
  2. Indications of what candidates have learned from their prior experience
  3. Recognising that experience in one organisation might not be a good match with the culture in another organisation
RiverRhee delivers training, workshops and one-to-one coaching in range of management and team member skills – see our website for details of our course on Recruitment and Interview Skills

Ways to gain this information and insight include:

  1. Identifying and focusing on the knowledge, skills and traits that are important for the role that you are recruiting into, rather than just someone’s experiences or their education.
  2. Widening the pool of candidates that you consider, based on these areas of knowledge, skills and traits.
  3. Asking competency-based questions in the interview itself such as “Tell me about a specific situation where you did [relevant task / situation]?  What did you do?  What was the outcome?  How might you deal with this [task / situation] in the future?”
  4. Recognising that experience might still be more important for newer hires and for some very specific tasks:
    • For newer hires experience could indicate that they are used to employment or to working in an organisation.
    • For some very specific technical tasks, then the number of hours’ experience of that task could still be a good predictor of performance


Readers can draw their own conclusions as to whether these findings and insights can be extrapolated to their areas of work.

Competency-based interviewing, and finding creative ways to widen the pool of candidates would certainly seem to be paying dividends for the companies that we work with locally.


Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.) Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis. RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus.

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

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