The work force, particularly professional and staff employees, are becoming more mobile. In the 1970’s, the average person had seven employers during their working careers. By 2005, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the average worker born late in the baby boom, had 10.5 employers by the age of 40.  This means that many companies are hiring many more people from the outside than they have in the past. The issue becomes the value of experiences that potential employees have had with other companies.

In a paper published in June, 2008, Wharton management professor Nancy Rothbard, along with co-authors Gina Dokko on NYU’s Stern School of Business and Steffanie L. Wilk of Ohio State’s Fisher School of Business, researched the relationship between prior experience and performance in the current job. Results from prior studies showed inconclusive results, despite the commonly held belief that prior experience develops knowledge and skills which positively impact performance.

The research found that employees were bringing more than just acquired knowledge and skills to the new job. They were also bringing attitudes and habits learned in another jobs to the new jobs. The longer that a person is part of an organization, the more that the person’s behavior reflects the norms and values of that organization. The research found that while experience in the form of knowledge and skills positively impacted performance in a new job, experience in the form of attitudes and habits actually had a negative impact on performance. The values and attitudes that an employee picks up in one job are not easily shed when they move to a new job. As one manager is quoted in the paper, “People are weighed down by the baggage they bring in.”

Since I have been involved in helping clients in the hiring and selection process, I have always emphasized the importance of cultural fit in the process. Too many times, companies place too much emphasis on the “technical” aspects of the candidate’s experience, and not enough on the softer stuff—values, habits, and attitudes.

When interviewing and considering experienced candidates, it is essential to gather as much information as possible about the culture and practices of the organization that the candidate is coming from. People who come from a culture radically different from the culture of the hiring organization have a low probability of success, according to the research.

If an experienced person is hired, it is important that they be given appropriate training and mentoring in order to fit into the new company. Just because someone comes into a company with a wealth of experience, doesn’t mean that they don’t need any training.

In summary, when considering an experienced person, consider all dimensions of the experience—knowledge, skills, attitudes or values, and habits. All of these must be applicable for the person to have the greatest possibility of being a productive employee.