Raw Talent vs. Experience: What Are You Really Looking For?

Choosing talentBy Elliot Cowan

“Just because you’ve been walking for 55 years doesn’t mean you’re getting better at it.”
K. Anders Ericsson, Professor of Psychology at Florida State University

In today’s job market the stakes have never been higher for both organizations and those looking for employment. We’re here to talk about that age-old HR question: when hiring a new employee, should you go for raw talent or experience?

Talent is a very rare thing. It is not learnt but comes naturally and is instinctive. For me as a Creative Director, personally I look at raw talent over experience at present. That’s not to say I believe experience isn’t a valuable asset; it absolutely is, especially when working in a specialized field like design. But if we look through history it wasn’t the people with only experience that propelled us forward, and even if you would like to suggest an example of this in the comments below, the chances are that it was their talent that ultimately made the difference, not their experience. They all gained experience and knowledge as they got older and they would not have been the successes they were without it, but it was the talent that got them there in the first place.

Dali, Cezanne, Michael Jordan, Joseph (and his Technicolor coat), Esther, Einstein, Florence Nightingale, and Jobs: these people were not blessed with experience; they had a natural ability to look at what they did differently and not color inside the lines. Instead, they blurred them to the point where we are not even sure where the lines are anymore. We’ve drawn new lines because of these individuals. That is talent.

Now let me make it even more complex: honestly, you need a mixture of the two. Experience makes you more efficient, less likely to make mistakes, better at project management, and more likely to deliver everything on time. But my personal issue is that all of this can be learnt. Experience is the facilitator and talent is the catalyst. I would much rather have a team of four talented people and one experienced person than the other way ‘round.

When I hire a new designer I have a process that I follow:

  1. I look at a portfolio first, just the work, just what’s come out of their head and is what they consider their finest examples. I’m looking for talent. I’m of the mentality that if you’re a photographer then I should be able to give you a pinhole camera and I should get a great picture. You shouldn’t need the latest piece of technology; talent will win, regardless of resources.
  2. If the portfolio is good and I see a glimmer of something special, then you’ve got your foot in the door! Now it’s time for a face-to-face. Please note: I still haven’t even looked at their résumé yet.
  3. Now in this face-to-face, it’s theirs to lose. This is the time when the person explains their work, how they did it, their inspirations and thoughts, restrictions, issues, what didn’t work, what did, how they had it received and everything in between (still not looked at the résumé!)
  4. Finally, we’re onto the résumé, the time for the experience part. Who have they worked for, what did they learn, what were the issues, what didn’t they learn, and what do they think they need more of? This way we know what to look out for.

Of course, I don’t want to be an experience basher and I do believe that it’s a valuable and much needed commodity in a number of situations. I also believe that people can have both experience and talent if given the right opportunity. Once again we are talking about propelling the Jewish community forward with innovation, creativity, and new thinking. Experience will count for not making the same mistakes and developing a real plan, and talent alone can often lead to arrogance or making those mistakes that have already been made by others.

Remember that Apple ad that used the quote from Rob Siltanen?

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

Talent and experience: the two will always need to exist side by side, they are not mutually exclusive, but we need to take the time to bring that talent out and allow it to get involved. Whether that person has experience or not.

Elliot Cowan is the Creative Director for Here’s My Chance (HMC), an award-winning creative agency that builds good brands by design. HMC’s mission is to create impactful, engaging designs that motivate people and lead to organizational success. Proudly headquartered in Philadelphia PA, HMC’s clients span the globe and include nonprofits and socially responsible companies that work to create positive change. HMC specializes in branding, graphic design, videos, websites and infographics. Learn more at heresmychance.com.