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Passion vs. Experience. How to make the right decision

Posted by Eric Friedman

passion vs experience

Imagine you’re meeting with a doctor for the first time to discuss a serious health issue. Would you feel more confident with a doctor who was new to the profession but would work with passion to get you healthy again? Or would you prefer a doctor who didn’t seem to have a passion for medicine, but had ample experience treating patients like you?

Choosing between passion and experience is tough for most of us, but it’s something human resources professionals must do on a regular basis. Should we be hiring experienced employees—those who tick all the boxes and meet all the requirements? Or are there times when we should consider hiring inexperienced employees who demonstrate enthusiasm and commitment?

While there’s no black-and-white answer, here are some points to consider.

Passion Is Rare—and Valuable

According to a 2013 study by Deloitte Consulting’s Center for the Edge, only 12.3 percent of American workers are passionate about their work. Clearly, work passion is hard to come by. It’s also increasingly perceived as valuable to organizations, and many companies are actively developing programs and resources that help employees use their passion to spark new and creative ideas.

For example, Microsoft launched The Garage: “a worldwide community of thousands of passionate employees who challenge convention, explore new technologies, and move their ideas forward.” The Garage is specifically designed to help Microsoft employees and interns use their passion and creativity to improve their skills and broaden their horizons. Similarly, LinkedIn’s [in]cubator allows LinkedIn employees at any skill or experience level to develop an idea with a team of co-workers and pitch their project to executive staff. These organizations recognize that inexperienced but motivated employees can be a powerful source of innovation.

Passion CAN Be Defined

A traditional hiring strategy weighs an applicant’s years of experience more heavily than other qualifications, and it’s easy to see why; quantifying experience is as easy as adding up the years on a candidate’s resume. Hiring experienced employees is the safe choice, while hiring inexperienced employees can feel like a free fall. How do you measure passion or a “spark”?

As it turns out, it’s not impossible. Passion may seem indefinable, but it expresses itself in measurable behaviors. The Deloitte study defines passion as an eagerness to face new challenges and learn new skills. Passionate employees are also more agile and resilient. These are all qualities that can be identified with the right interview questions. For example, ask candidates when they last sought out a challenge without being required to. Ask them to describe a moment when they’ve had to adapt quickly on the job. Probe them on how they deal with change. And find out how they react when work throws them a curve-ball.

In an article for Inc., Dan Finnegan, President and CEO of Jobvite, recommends asking the “why” question to uncover true passion. Why are they so passionate about their work? What drives them?

Passion Needs Nurturing

Passion is a powerful engine, but without guidance, it won’t take employees in the right direction. To harness an employee’s passion for work, your organization needs to have the right training, coaching, and mentoring opportunities in place. Your support structure may not be as resource-intensive as Microsoft’s network or the LinkedIn lab, but it needs to help an employee’s work passion find meaningful outlets. With support, inexperienced but passionate employees can quickly catch up to their more experienced counterparts and start making a valuable contribution to the organization. Without it, they’re likely to spin their wheels.

Find the Right Balance

When asked to choose between a passionate but untried doctor or one who has experience but lacks commitment, most people will respond: “Can’t I have passion AND experience?”

Similarly, every organization will want to have a workforce that blends the best of both. The challenge is to find the optimal balance between the two. To determine whether you want a more passionate candidate or an experienced one for the job at stake, ask yourself: is your organization in need of an energy lift? Does it place a premium on passion as part of its corporate culture? Could it benefit from someone who is ready to work with passion and embrace a steep learning curve? Or do you have a greater need for proven experience to anchor key roles, ramp up quickly, and deliver immediate results?

By evaluating your company’s culture, needs, and training resources, you can preserve the stability and continuity of your workforce while tapping into the power of passion. And in a competitive market for talent, you’re also likely to identify high-potential candidates your competitors have overlooked.

Which do you prefer to see in a future candidate – passion or experience?

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About Eric Friedman

Author

Eric Friedman is the founder and CEO of eSkill Corporation, a leading provider of Web-based skills testing for pre-employment and training. With academic degrees in Psychology and Business, and experience with both mature and expansion-stage company growth, Eric has focused on how best to hire and motivate team members to be the best they can be for their companies.

4 COMMENTS Join the discussion
  • Anna P. November, 01, 2016

    We have a great training program at my company, and we pair up new employees with people that have been in the company for a while. The trainers say they love to see the spark in the new employees when they finally get something. The trainees are grateful they’re learning new things. And yes, when it comes to the finish line, we’d pick a passionate candidate over a blasé one every time.

  • Georgia Miller November, 01, 2016

    In the long run, a passionate employee will surely get ahead of a coworker who only is knowledgeable. Being motivated at work keeps the motor running, and passion is a big driver for not only doing things right, but also going above and beyond. Passion is at the base of progress in every domain.

  • Alexander W. November, 01, 2016

    Ok, let’s get something straight. Passion + aptitude gets the job done. Sure, passionate people work harder and might overcome missing skills, but the right combo of passion and aptitude will get the work done faster, with less energy spent.

  • lester vriend November, 04, 2016

    Nice dilemma and yet very simple to choose sides here. Passion is one thing we can not ignite in others. Cherish everybody who is working with hearth and soul to create value. Knowledge and experience are great for coaching the passionate ones with little experience instead of turning their optimism and great energy down. Because knowledge is everywhere to google in this global world and great attitude is yet like gold, very rare to find and even harder to keep.

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