That basic proposition – more experience equals more wisdom – explains why, in the technical world we inhabit in 2012, it makes financial, social and technological sense to hire veteran workers whenever possible.
I’ll tick off the whys behind this statement in a moment, but first let me be blunt about one absolutely critical aspect of this debate: To my way of thinking, the word “veteran” has nothing to do with birthdays, nor a thing to do with “youth vs. age.” To me, “veteran” has to do with years in tech, with experiences amassed, trials and errors negotiated and with personal networks assembled.Put simply, in IT, where the pace of innovation can turn entire years into rapid eye blinks, the best skillset for an open position is absolutely not calendar-contingent. Instead, we ought to look for a varied set of experiences, the building blocks most likely to equate to a sturdy foundation of wisdom.
In a two-decade career that has taken me from startups to the Fortune 500 to my current role as CTO for Dice Holdings, I’ve hired scores of both types of technology applicants, raw graduates and pros with limb-length resumes. Far more often than not, making an investment in years of experience (which generally equates to higher salary and benefits packages) has accrued better ROI than a comparably steeper investment in training someone standing at his career’s beginning.
How so, you ask?
With veteran IT hires, you gain the benefit of all their mistakes along the way – and all the associated wisdom they’ve gained across time. Those who have “been there, done that” working for years at the edge of their IT skills generally have developed an approach to work that allows them to quickly disregard unworkable options in favor of best possible solutions and more direct paths to success.
Of course, that isn’t always the case. Veterans too deeply rooted in one workplace view or one problem-solving pattern can fail to have the flexibility necessary to prosper in a world that changes at a rapid pace. And internally, some hard cases can fail to “play well with others.” Communications breakdowns like that not only create social conflict, but they lessen one of the greatest value of having a veteran on the team: The possibility of being a knowledge hub for colleagues, pushing thoughts and solutions across workspaces and up and down the organizational chart.
The key here: An interview process that sifts out potentially intransigent new hires – unless you’re in search of a “rock star” who puts on the headphones and cranks out the work heads down and in solitude – in favor of those who may thrive in a more outward role balancing the right set of skills with the right flexible, adaptable approach to teamwork.
You’re likely wondering exactly where the “experience sweet spot” resides – where IT workers transition from quality professional to veteran? I believe it happens for most tech pros – if it ever happens for them – as they approach the 10-year mark in their career. That’s when enough experiences amass to become wisdom, and when a worker’s professional connections blossom into the perfect database to find the right answers quickly.
Interestingly, the latest Dice.com survey into companies’ hiring habits underscores how valuable these veterans are perceived in the hiring marketplace: While 24% of corporate hiring managers surveyed say they’re looking to fill entry-level positions, some 62% are looking for new hires with six to 10 years’ experience. And 28% reported that they want to hire tech pros employed in the business for more than a decade.
At the end of the day, hiring the right tech professional – like solving a complex problem – is as much art as it is science. For sure, green recruits will have their place in the mix. The best tech hires offer experience and wisdom, flexibility and team skills. If you can find a newbie who offers that package, count yourself fortunate. Otherwise, I say count on veteran talent to get the job done.
Dice Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: DHX) is a leading provider of specialized websites for professional communities, including technology and engineering, financial services, energy, healthcare, and security clearance.