Job applicants can shine even without experience

Solar industry looking for qualified candidates

When you’re in charge of hiring, it’s quite common to seek someone who has already had success in the same type position. Proven success gives you confidence. But I’m here to say, don’t start or end your search with that criteria.

Next week,  I’m headed to the Solar Power International conference in Orlando. I can’t wait.

I often do get excited before a trip. But this one has me totally energized. For starters, I’ve been invited to participate on a panel that will be discussing best practices for the hiring process. And while that’s really beyond super cool, there are so many other things that will make this trip wonderful. I’m all geared up for the sessions. There will be lots to learn about solar technologies and the state of the industry. I also tend to get a bit giddy when I’m in an atmosphere where lots of smart people are sharing ideas. And like many who attend these types of conferences, I’m looking forward to reconnecting with long-time colleagues and equally eager to meet new ones. I just know that this collection of people will be progressive, inspiring, and motivational.

This is Grace’s idea of the best way to use solar energy.

Expanding the use of all renewable energy sources is important on many levels. If it were only so easy, right? And those who are actively working to make that happen know better than I do all the difficulties they face.

One of the frequent concerns from HR managers in the solar sector is that it’s hard to find qualified workers. And this is understandable given how (relatively) new the industry is.  There are numerous training and certificate programs out there, but there hasn’t been enough time to know which ones are the best, which ones to trust, which ones have had proven results. These are real issues and the implications shouldn’t be diminished.

But why not take advantage of the unknown and create it as your advantage?

As an example, when I work with clients in the insurance industry, most agencies feel there is a lot of value in having experience.  I get that. Certifications and the training is a big deal. It equates to lower costs for training and higher confidence in performance. When you have someone who has gone through the coursework and proven themselves, it’s a huge advantage. But the smartest companies know that they can benefit the most by finding individuals that have the capacity and the interest to excel, even if they haven’t already mastered every skill needed.

What I find in any industry, is that the best employees are ones that fit the job, even if they enter the position without the desired amount of experience. So your job, as a hiring manager, is to find that candidates that shine, even without the right experience. There are lots of studies out there that show that the majority of people leave their jobs (whether forced out or not) because of a bad fit, and not because they lacked skills.

Despite these dilemmas faced by employers in the hiring process, there is still much that can be done to find the right job match. Here are a few key points that I suggest:

  • Understand a candidate’s current skill level. This can be accomplished by asking them to perform a particular task that is needed in the position. No matter how they do, it’s good information. Don’t immediately drop them if the results aren’t perfect, consider this an important point of where you need to start training. But most issues arise when the hiring manager thinks a person knows how to do something and the new employee doesn’t. Create an environment for success, not failure, but knowing what to expect.
  • Discover their capacity to learn. Ask them questions about their past experiences that will indicate how fast and eager they take on new assignments. Seeing their past behavior will provide clues to future performance. If you use a reliable and valid assessment tool in your hiring process, you can get that information easily and accurately.
  • Determine if the candidate is open to learning. This is especially important when you knowingly hire someone without the experience, but is an excellent trait for anyone. Having an attitude of continuous learning and improvement will always be valuable to the organization’s growth and success. You can get a handle on this by providing feedback to the candidate during the interview. If they accept your feedback openly, it’s a great sign. If they get defensive, it’s a good indicator that you will see that defensive behavior when you’re working with them on a real assignment.

The hiring process is difficult and will never be foolproof. If you have any concerns about the fit, you shouldn’t ignore the red flags you experience. I’ve never seen magical outcomes when the start was rocky. Even in those occasions when there is a blissful honeymoon start, things can head downhill fast if a problem hasn’t been identified and quickly addressed.

Different industries have different challenges. But many of the best practices hold true across the board.

Be alert. Read the signs. And pay attention to them. If you’re interested in improving your hiring process, let me know! Together, we can help your employees shine bright.


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  1. Kas on September 19, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    Hehe that is a GREAT way to enjoy solar energy, Grace! 🙂

    • Robin on September 20, 2012 at 2:34 pm

      Yes, she loves her sunbeams, Kas! Smart girl.

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