Research; Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business

Clemson study challenges job experience in hiring decisions


Experience required. It’s a common refrain found on many job postings.

But research conducted by a team of researchers, including a College of Business professor at Clemson University, suggests that previous job experience is not all that it’s cracked up to be as a predictor of whether one will succeed in a future job.

“The bottom line of this research is that prior experience is a weak predictor of future job performance,” said Phil Roth, Department of Management professor at Clemson. “This study tested conventional wisdom on the importance previous experience plays in an employee’s future success in another position. We found the correlation between prior experience and subsequent performance was very weak.”

Roth was joined in the research by Clemson Ph.D. graduate and first author Chad Van Iddekinge of Florida State University; John D. Arnold, Florida State University; and Rachel Elizabeth Frieder, University of North Florida.

Their research, “It’s required, but is it job related? A meta-analysis of the validity of prior work experience,” was given the best paper award by the Human Resources division at the Annual Academy of Management meeting in August.

Roth, whose areas of expertise are organizational behavior and personnel selection, said the two-year research project analyzed nearly 90 studies that examined previous experience and work outcomes. The team used meta-analysis, which is a mathematical way to cumulate the results of decades of data on this issue.

“It’s a definitive type of analysis because you’re looking at an entire body of data. Mathematically, we crunch the results of those studies together to reach a consensus on what evidence in the field tells us,” Roth said. “We only looked at studies that examined experience in a prior organization.”

Roth said what experience assessments don’t measure is the quality of the experience a person had on a previous job, so in practice, future employers may not be getting a complete picture of who they are hiring.

“The findings have clear implications for practice,” Roth added. “Research results suggest that by requiring job experience, an employer may be eliminating someone who might perform well on the job. In effect, they could be reducing the pool of qualified applicants. Likewise, employers may hire someone who does not perform well on that job, because the relationship between experience and job performance is so weak.”

Requiring job experience can be a risky proposition for those in the business of hiring, according to Roth. “What happens if you hire based on experience, but hire fewer members of groups such as blacks, Hispanics, or women?

“People implicitly trust prior experience to make all sorts of screening decisions early in the selection process. It’s a way to weed out candidates quickly and easily,” Roth said. “The question is, are you also paring the field of very qualified candidates who don’t have experience? Our data suggests the assumption that experience makes for a better hire may be short changing job candidates and the hiring organization.”

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