Decision Toolbox acquired by leader in integrated employee engagement solutions, Engage2Excel.Read the full story.

Talent in the Raw: Stripping Away Experience as a Requirement

By Tom Brennan, Senior Writer

Part 1: How Important is Direct Experience?

With some positions, experience is essential, such as in accounting or engineering. But in some areas experience is not the only predictor of success, and a degree doesn’t guarantee a good hire. As recruiting and retaining the best talent becomes ever more complex and “pedigreed” talent becomes more scarce, it makes sense to consider “raw” talent.

In a recent blog, Jay Barnett, Decision Toolbox (DT) Founder and Chief Technical Officer, urged hiring managers to loosen up on hard requirements, focus on potential and offer the opportunity to learn. DT put this idea into practice recently when hiring a PHP Programmer.

Practicing What We Preach

Hiring manager Michael Berding (DT Director of Engineering) and Recruitment Partner Domini Clark determined that the target candidate was a “natural coder.” Rather than setting a firm “3+ years of PHP experience” as the baseline, they brainstormed on how to identify a diamond in the rough when PHP might not be one of that person’s facets.

They established a first screen designed to provide insight into general coding knowledge and aptitude: a basic coding exercise that was not specific to PHP, Java or any other language. Surprisingly, many people with solid experience did not do well on this basic test.

In the end, DT hired an individual with a degree in Applied Math with a minor in Computer Science who was working as a bank teller. The key: he is that “natural coder” who is eager to learn PHP. According to Domini, “As a recruiter, this is my dream story: working with someone who wasn’t doing what they wanted to do, and being able to offer them a job doing what they love.”

Diamonds in the Rough Are an HR Manager’s Best Friend

Another forward-thinking organization is bringing a unique approach to finding talent that others may have skipped over. Software Advice (, based in Austin TX, offers just that: research-based advice for individuals and businesses trying to navigate application purchases. The company includes teams in marketing, PR, sales, human resources, customer service and other areas, but when they recruit they don’t necessarily look at experience and education first.

They call it recruiting for “diamonds in the rough,” and it’s how they found their Human Resources Manager, Bethany Perkins. Bethany’s degree is in theater, and before joining Software Advice she was tending bar. As you might imagine, she’s an advocate of the approach, and she has some good insights.

Great Talent is Everywhere

“If you’re only looking under one rock, you’re limiting yourself,” she explains. Intrinsic qualities and personality characteristics can be great predictors of success, particularly in customer-facing areas like customer service and sales. Austin Merritt, Software Advice’s Chief Operating Officer, wrote about the approach, summing it up nicely in the title, “Bartenders, Servers, Baristas — And Other Awesome Hires.”

It makes sense: successful people in the hospitality industry deal effectively with stress while maintaining an upbeat, customer-oriented approach. They also sell, and many restaurants coach their people on upselling. In fact, foodservers and bartenders understand the direct link between performance and revenue. But it doesn’t have to be at the local bistro. What about that grocery checker who’s always smiling and helpful?

Of course, there are a few steps between barrista and customer service representative . . .


If You Train Them, They will Come

At Software Advice, they have set up strong training programs in Customer Service and Sales, and it’s paying off. According to Bethany, “Every great sales pro started somewhere.” Here are some of the advantages she has identified:

  • “We’ll train you” is a strong attractor in a highly competitive job market.
  • You can train entry-level people the way you want them to be trained.
  • You have to train new employees anyway.
  • Sales and customer service are both areas in which turnover is high, and a strong training program can enhance retention.

In part 2 of this blog we’ll go into how to find diamonds in the rough, what characteristics are important, how to assess for those characteristics and more.

To learn more about Decision Toolbox, send us an email – we’d love to hear from you!

Did You Enjoy This Article? Sign up for Decision Toolbox’s monthly newsletter: Inside the Box.

Inside the Box will share the secrets of life long happiness….not really, but we will provide you with some great talent acquisition articles and tips that will hopefully make your working life better. You’ll also get the inside scoop on DT.

One Response to “Talent in the Raw: Stripping Away Experience as a Requirement”

  1. November 04, 2013 at 5:46 am, Mining for Diamonds in the Rough | Blog | Decision Toolbox said:

    […] Part 1 I shared some examples to show that you can find great candidate by focusing on characteristics and […]


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

See what our clients are saying…

Believe it or not, we don’t have giant heads. See More Client Quotes

  • " (DT Recruiter) is an amazing recruiter to work with. Always willing to stick it out through tough searches and as amicable as they come. She is the perfect model of success in a business that requires perseverance and excellent customer service. "
  • " (DT Recruiter) and Decision Toolbox are Rock Stars! "
  • " Referral is the best compliment I can give which I have done for multiple colleagues and it is my understanding DT is working on additional reqs for us so that is good to hear. "
  • " (The DT Recruiter) was terrific. She dealt with some of the internal struggles our company is having in terms of "what type of candidate do we really need vs. what we thought we needed." She helped management think through the type of candidate we were looking for and was a huge asset to us. I also liked the web based system that DT has set up. I felt informed throughout the process. "
DecisionToolbox 800-344-2026