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Hire the right rookies

October 29, 2014 Briana Goldman

Liz Wiseman’s recent blog post about hiring rookies, Why Your Team Needs Rookies hits pretty close to home.

“Hiring managers often view newcomers to their organizations as not only long-term assets but also short-term burdens: people who need to be inducted, trained, and given lighter loads as they get up to speed, inevitably slowing everyone else down,” she writes.

“But that doesn’t have to be the case. In my research studying how inexperienced people tackle tough challenges, I’ve consistently found that rookies (whether they are freshly minted university graduates or experienced professionals coming from other organizations or functions) are surprisingly strong performers.

“Because they face significant knowledge or skill gaps, they are alert, move fast, and work smart. While they’re not well-suited for tasks that require technical mastery or where a single mistake is game-ending, they are particularly adept at knowledge work that is innovative in nature, when speed matters and the environment is quickly changing. Consider science and technology, fields in which information is doubling every nine months and decaying at a rate of 30% a year, thereby rendering as much as 85% of a person’s technical knowledge irrelevant in five years’ time. For many professionals today, the ability to learn is more valuable than accumulated knowledge.”

And as a newly hired “rookie” myself, I couldn’t agree more. Often, rookies are overlooked because they’ve yet to stand the test of time, they haven’t achieved success, and they represent a risk to the organization. But I believe that hiring shouldn’t disqualify people who lack skills. Skills are both measurable and teachable but potential is key. The important question isn’t always “Does this person have the required skills?” More important questions to ask are: Does this person have the innate qualities needed to be successful within your workplace? Are they resilient? Eager? Do they have a desire to grow? Do they want to prove themselves to you?”

Granted, I’m not new to the workforce, but I am new to my field. And I agree with Ms. Wiseman that new hires, whether new to the workforce or relatively recent transfers to the field, are an asset for companies who wish to increase organizational resilience and innovation.

Rookies are able to adapt in the face of adverse events. They haven’t suffered major setbacks often enough to have adapted the weather-worn exasperation that can occur with veterans. Rookies want to establish themselves and they want to be successful. They can’t afford to keep adversity from standing in their way.

Veterans can also be blinded by their own institutional knowledge. Rookies on the other hand, don’t have the same knowledge to fall back on. They don’t know “the way things have been done before” and they won’t avoid efforts that might not work because, “that’s not the way we do things.” Rookies encourage and nurture their sense of wonderment and that’s necessary to breed innovation.

Are you simply looking for someone who has the skills to do a job or can you teach those to someone with high potential but relatively little experience? If the skills are teachable, then it’s quite possible that adding a rookie might actually help bring your team to the next level.

So let’s hear from you. Who would you rather have on your team—a veteran with deep institutional knowledge or a rookie with drive, potential, and innovative ideas?

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