How Much Experience is Enough?

A friend of mine in Hong Kong had an interesting Facebook status last week:

“someone wants me to hire him… and teach him everything I know… why doesn’t he pay me?”

My friend is a designer, working in films and television and doing the sets for photo shoots. He has had a lot of work recently and needs an assistant, but this one applicant was not quite what he had in mind.

When you are hiring new employees you will rarely find someone who already knows everything you want them to know. You may have to set aside time for on-the-job training, or even send them to a class. At a minimum, you should expect some time getting used to the job before they can do everything they promised you in the job interview.

With that in mind, you still need to be careful just how inexperienced they are. If you are recruiting an employee for the long run and you can afford inexperience, this is your chance to grow a new employee from scratch. But if you need someone who can start contributing right away (which is what my friend needed), you cannot afford someone with no skills at all. Make the job requirements really clear in the job announcement and the interview, and then stick to those expectations.

When someone comes to you and says “I would like to work for you, please teach me everything you know,” it does seem a little strange that they would be learning from you as if you are a teacher, but with you would be paying them rather than the other way around. The reality, though, is that everybody has to start somewhere, and it always seems like a real dilemma when you need experience to get a job but you cannot get experience until you have a job. It is fun to be a mentor, it is fun to have an apprentice, but sometimes you just do not have the time for all that. One of your functions as a leader is to decide what kind of new employee you need to hire and what amount of experience is really important, based on your plans for the person in this role. Figure out what and who you need at that time, and choose wisely.

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