The Hiring Dilemma: General Experience or Special Expertise


If you were faced with two candidates for the same position, one with years of general experience and the other with a more focused professional background…

Who would you choose?   More importantly, who should you choose?

Our consultant-like answer? It depends.

It all depends upon the growth stage of your organization…there are times when you need broad experience and there are times when a more narrow experience base brings you better value.

Think of the process of choosing the best talent for your company’s situation as similar to launching a journey by car. The more challenging and unknown the route, the more experienced the driver should be. You want someone who can do everything from repair a flat tire to read a road map to find the nearest gas station when running on low gas.  You may even want them to be able to handle a possible speeding ticket with finesse. In other words, if you are at the beginning stages of company development and your future is uncertain, you need an experienced driver at the wheel. You don’t know if you will need someone to design a new plan or build an enterprise to scale. Perhaps you will need someone who can find new markets, has experience with funding, or can sweet-talk early investors into being patient. Someone with versatile and general experience can adapt to whatever competency is needed at the time to succeed.

So when is the focused talent the better choice? As your organization matures and your needs for expertise in certain areas become obvious, then it may be time to invest in employees who are experts in an area you know will be critical to the future of your company. Back to the car journey analogy…with the route determined and most passengers aboard, you know you will need someone with specific knowledge of how to keep your engine running smoothly. You will need an employee who is a professional in the area that will determine the success of the organization. Until now, you have managed with employees who can, in general, oversee the operation in a particular department. At this point, you need a specialist who can take that function to the next level.

As you interview for your start-up or your growing company, consider the kind of experience that would serve you best…general or specific…and make your job offer on that basis.


Interviewing the So-Called Millennials

At the turn of this century, there was much talk about how to spell the word “millennial” (double “l” and double “n”) as well as what this generation of young people soon to enter the workforce would become. Born after 1979, the so-called millennials are now in their early thirties and have been studied enough to be able to draw some conclusions about their attitudes and behavior—both of which have an impact on the way they might more effectively be interviewed so that, once hired, you can predict how they would operate on the job.

We know that they were raised in an inclusive and diverse environment; that they rely a great deal on social networks to keep plugged in to family and friends; that they were probably overprotected by their parents and have an inflated sense of confidence from the constant encouragement of adults concerned about raising self-esteem. We also know that they are highly educated. Though they are likely to be qualified intellectually and technically, can you be sure about their ongoing commitment to the company and motivation to work hard?

As an interviewer, you want to hire the most talented and those most likely to be engaged and perform at a high level. Here are some specific tips on how to interview millennials:

    • To test their commitment to previous jobs, ask for specific examples of when they went “above and beyond” requirements. You want proof that their motivation to work hard came from dedication to the boss/team/company and not just a paycheck.


    • To determine the level of commitment toward your open position, ask what appeals to them about the job and how they want to contribute. Of course, this line of questioning could be answered predictably in a positive way; it is your further behavioral probing that can dig beneath the surface to the truth beneath pat answers.


  • All the while, be careful not to drill the candidate. Millennials can be oversensitive and, in general, do not respond well to stressful interviews. The more relaxed, honest and forthcoming you can be, the more they will respect you and the organization.

Once they have been hired, be prepared to accommodate their strengths as well as their weaknesses. With their need for social interaction comes the strength of working on a team. With the need for positive feedback, provide recognition for a job well done. With their reliance on others for their own measure, be sure to give them coaches who will support and encourage them.

With these shifts in the way you interview and the way you integrate them into the company, you will have millennials who perform well and are likely to stay on the job.