Experience is Nothing Without Ability and Motivation

Let’s just be honest, assessing talent is hard and not many people are good at it.  Most managers with hiring authority are the worse at making calls on talent.  It's because decisions are based on your point of view. In other words, the perspective we bring from what we've experienced.  It’s refreshing to have a manager look beyond what the job requires and focus on the candidate’s ability and motivation regardless of past work experience performing a similar role. I’m not saying experience isn’t important but it’s not the end be all. It’s just one piece.

Recently, I came across this quote while organizing some papers from my recent office move.

"There is something that is much more scarce, something finer by far, something rarer than ability. It is the ability to recognize ability." Quote by Elbert Hubbard

If you are in the business of hiring or developing people, this quote might speak to you.  It resonated with me from a talent acquisition perspective and in my own personal journey. 

Take for instance the illustration below, the classic person in the box example (aka man in the box). 

The person represents one's experiences in performing the job.  The box represents the job. 


How do you hire based on the 3 images?  How does your company want you to hire?

Throughout my career, I've aimed to recruit the person who's larger than the box (far right).  In many cases this is a flawed approach if the company or team this person is hired into is not prepared to increase their scope and/or grow their career quickly.  These hires tend to master their jobs quickly, get bored and become negative attrition early in their tenure.

Most companies hire for someone who fits the box exactly like the picture in the middle. They have all or most of the skills and experience having done this type of work before. The key is finding that person who fits the box but wants to continue growing. Depending on the industry, this person may be on a decline so companies are forced to be creative in order to meet hiring goals.

Most college hires fall into the category of not fitting into the box (far left).  This is also the case for people changing careers and might not have all of the experience necessary to perform the job.  Hiring someone who is inexperienced and doesn't meet the requirements is compromising on your needs in the short-term. 

Using the same illustration and putting experience aside.  What if we now said that the person in the box represents the amount ability and motivation a person has and the box represents the amount of ability & motivation we need for the job.  Remember, we put experience requirements on the shelf and are solely basing our hiring requirements on ability & motivation. Another way to define ability would be, a skill, aptitude, intelligence or mental capacity, power (influencing people or social connections), or innate gifts. Motivation in short is behavior that initiates and maintains goal-oriented actions.

You can liken it to a company that hires former athletes who don’t have experience in a particular field.  They hire them because they have an ability to perform at a very high level. Employers know that these athletes will bring the same level of commitment, motivation and excellence to any role you give them.

When you focus on ability & motivation, does it make you look differently at the candidate standing in front of you?  This approach is really powerful when you used together with an experience criteria for your selection process.

Job Requirements: Ability (high) + Experience (moderate) + Motivation (high)

We easily discredit one’s ability because we lack the ability to recognize potential and talent.  In most cases, we don’t even give that person a chance.  Sometimes, we do recognize ability, however, it’s easily dismissed or overlooked or out of fear of being displaced (this person can do my job one day, pass). AND recruiters, a lot of recruiters can care less about ability as long as the key words are present in a resume.

Great Leaders recognize ability, potential and motivation with hopes to develop it.  With desires to encourage and watch it grow into something unimaginable to the person but visible to the leader.

Ask yourself these questions:

How do you see your direct reports today? Do you recognize all of their abilities?

Did the candidate you interviewed for your job have the ability to learn the job and surpass expectations?

As a recruiter, am I really looking at ability?  I’m I finding out what makes my candidates tick? Or I’m I just focused on key words and checking a box?

Do I see the ability within myself to change the course of my career in the direction I want to go?


If you enjoyed the post, please click the thumbs up icon above and let me know!

Thoughts and feedback, please comment below.

Follow me on Twitter at @chrisbrecruits

The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not reflect the views of my employer.


This blog post was originally posted on LinkedIn on 1/22/15.

Photo by PinkBlue. Published on 19 November 2012 Stock Photo - Image ID: 100116184

Views: 335

Comment by Aditya Pandey on February 18, 2021 at 12:36am

If you want to read the latest Motivational Quotes


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