New small business owners often look for experience when hiring a new employee. When you are new to business and have a need, or a position that needs to be filled, it makes sense that you might initially look for someone who has done this kind of work before.


But the interesting thing is that after a few years in business, for most entrepreneurs, experience becomes much less important. Indeed, according to the latest Bank of America Small Business Owner Report, experience comes in at a distant second in terms of importance when looking to hire.


So, what is number one? I will get to that in a moment, but let’s first consider why seasoned small business owners find experience to be less than a great marker for a potentially great employee.


There are two things that are inherent drawbacks to hiring for experience:


  1. It limits your pool of applicants.
  2. And it pigeonholes the applicants you receive.


Sure, experience is helpful, but making that the focal point of a job search means that other things, for example, growth potential, cultural fit, skills and smarts are less important. It also means that you, as the recruiter, may miss out on some really good people; people who won’t apply because your post said, “3 years’ experience necessary” and they don’t have that (yet). Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png


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Experience is nice, but limiting.


That’s why I wasn’t surprised to see that, according to the spring 2016 Bank of America Small Business Owner Report, the characteristic that is far more important in the hiring process for the business owners surveyed is “skill level”. According to the report:


  • 49% of the small business owners surveyed said that the most important thing they look for when hiring is someone’s skill level
  • 24% said it was fit with company culture, and
  • 24% said it was work experience


That certainly is true for small business owner Jamie Glassman. For Glassman, owner of JAZ Condominium & Property Management in Washington, D.C., personality is most important when looking to hire.


Glassman, one of the small business owners interviewed by Bank of America for the report, says that what he looks for are people who will be a great fit with his company; “people who are personable, smart, articulate and customer-service oriented.” Glassman says that those types of qualities are far more important than finding someone with a lot of experience and a long resume. “That’s not necessarily that important,” he goes on to say.


Why is it that small business owners like Glassman look for fit and skills instead of experience? The answer lies in what makes for a great business. Businesses are not monolithic. They are made up of people – people who do business with other people. As such, the best businesses tend to have employees who are versatile – folks who can not only do the job they were hired to do, but who can think on their feet, interact well with customers, take the initiative, and so on. Skills are transferable, and that is why experience in a particular job matters far less to these small business owners.


Find people who fit your culture and have transferable skills and you are set.


About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.

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