Archive for March, 2010

When Time is Not on Your Side

March 10, 2010

I loved my grandmother very much.  Yet, I can state unequivocally that she was one of the worst drivers ever to get behind the wheel.  Her driving mentality was summed up by her proclamation, “The other guy’s got the brakes!”  She would have fit right in here in Boston.  However, this is Los Angeles we’re talking about – the land of abiding by every driving rule while yielding to others in the name of courteousness.

Even more telling is a memory etched into my brain until I die.  My sister and I were hunkered down in the back seat of my grandmother’s yellow and black ’67 Chrysler Newport.  Why were we in the “brace for impact” position as shown on airline videos?  Because my grandmother was driving on the wrong side of Sunset Boulevard!  We tried in vain to tell her she was driving on the wrong side, but to no avail.  My grandma asserted, “I have been driving for 60 years!  Nobody’s going to tell me how to drive!”

The point of this life or death driving drama is to demonstrate that years of experience does not automatically correlate with proficiency.  All too many times, I see as the beginning of a LinkedIn profile or resume proudly state:  “Marketing professional with 25 years’ experience…” or “Over 20 years of high tech/software sales experience…”  Granted, it is true that these people have accumulated 20+ years of relevant experience.  Yet, as the masters of their own personal brands, why lead with a quantitative data point that doesn’t speak to aptitude and accomplishments?  After all, the first line is the first impression of the first impression.

Surely, many of these 20-year veterans bring valuable life lessons and perspective.  We all stand to learn from those with accumulated wisdom gained from their many years on the job.  But the reality is that hiring executives may not necessarily desire someone with 20 years’ experience.  Perhaps they had it in their mind that 10 years was about right.  Would they be open to a 20-year star performer?  Possibly.  But why throw it in their face?

I have placed 5-year up-and-comers for positions that called for 10+ years.  Similarly, I have placed 20-year experienced professionals in roles that called for 5-8 years’ experience.  Ultimately, the fit should be determined by what a candidate has accomplished in those years, be they few or plentiful.  Moreover, intangible qualities, such as passion, energy, self-awareness, and innovation, transcend time.  We’ve all seen or worked with young pups who were mature beyond their years and in the process, got and gave the very most out of their few years as a professional.  And yes, we’ve also seen that “seasoned” professional who’s not so seasoned and not very professional.

In this light, I encourage hiring executives to put aside their preferences on years of experience and focus more on what candidates have done with the years they have.  There are so many other significant attributes to look at, both tangible and intangible, that will serve as a more telling barometer of success in the role.

As for my grandmother’s driving, I lived to tell about it.  In hindsight, I would have preferred to be driven by either a 60-year driving veteran who knew the roads and cleanly managed through the myriad of driving circumstances, or a 5-year driver who had driven quite a bit in that short time, learned a lot, and remained cognizant of driving rules and best practices.

Action Items

1.  As a hiring manager, keep an open mind on number of years in a candidate’s background.  Instead, focus on the extent to which that candidate has made the most of their time.

2.  As a candidate, there are many other ways to define yourself than by the number of years.

3.  Always wear your seatbelt, even if you’re in the back seat.  You just never know what kind of person is at the wheel.