The importance a job candidate’s experience should have in the hiring decision has become an obsession of both major political parties in the U.S. during the current presidential campaign. All of the political commentators seem to be arguing both sides; that experience should and should not make a difference in “hiring” a President or Vice President. Democrats and Republicans are spinning the issue so fast, it’s hard to tell what they mean.

An article in Knowledge@Wharton, titled Unpacking Prior Experience: How Career History Affects Job Performance, is generating a similar debate about hiring experienced employees, which bring with them a set of values and learned behaviors from previous employers, vs. hiring new employees, which, in theory, come tabula rasa and can be more easily molded by the new culture. The authors, from their research, give the example of a talented insurance adjustor who had considerable experience in one particular insurance agency where he was rewarded for keeping down costs. He was hired into another agency where service to customers was more important than saving money. This caused problems for him and his new organization. The authors wrote:

It was so embedded in his ideas about how to do the job that even at this other firm, where management tried to instill the other set of values, it didn't translate...He had the skills to get up and running quickly in the [basics] of what an adjustor does, but ... he was ultimately not adaptable to the strategy and norms of the new firm. His experience tended to trap him.

This can sound like an argument for hiring the young and inexperienced person who doesn’t come with baggage. However, everyone, regardless of age, brings a set of values and behaviors with them. The intention should be to recruit and hire people who are a good fit with the attitudes and behaviors expected in the particular job and workplace culture. Experienced and inexperienced, young and old, should all be mentored and trained in the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs that will make them successful in the new environment. We shouldn’t assume that experienced hires have nothing to learn and we shouldn’t assume that inexperienced hires have everything to learn. Each person has to be taken from where he or she is and helped to get to where he or she needs to be...even future Presidents and Vice Presidents.