Don’t Fall Into The Experience Trap


As sales leaders, when we begin to comb through résumés and meet with candidates for job openings, we instinctively look first at their experience. We want to know how many years of experience a candidate can claim and what type of experience they have. While experience can be an important gauge of one’s credentials, it can also often lead leaders astray. “The experience trap” fools us into believing that people with more experience are better at their jobs than people with less.

But we know that’s proven to not always be true. Research and the concept of the learning curve have demonstrated that people generally gain their most important experience during the early years in a career. After that initial entry ramp, the gains that we make through simple experience—doing the same job day after day, year after year—begin to diminish and learning plateaus. This Harvard Business Review blog post highlights the way learning “crests” for individuals in an area of expertise.

Unfortunately, leaders frequently assume that someone with 20 years of experience in sales has spent 20 years learning progressively more about their profession. In fact, however, many in the sales profession acquire deep, enduring knowledge during their first 24 months in the field and then repeat many of those same lessons in subsequent years.

Sales leaders make two critical mistakes when they fail to grasp the concept that experience does not produce knowledge exponentially with each passing year:

  1. They make poor hiring decisions, adding the most seasoned candidates to their team instead of the best. Successful leaders, on the other hand, use the recruiting and interview process to drill deeper into candidates’ skills, temperament, knowledge, and intelligence.
  2. They manage their team inadequately. They believe that a sales team member with 20 years of experience does not require significant coaching—and that the key is to provide the right product or service to sell, allow them to get to work, and let that experience breathe. Successful leaders, however, are always poised to help their team improve and grow regardless of where they are on the career spectrum.

Furthermore, many managers are naturally drawn toward the experience trap as they often worry that onboarding young, new hires will waste valuable time and resources. They’re concerned that they won’t be able to get new hires up to speed quickly and performing at the level required.

Yet we’ve seen time and again that the majority of young salespeople who are new to their careers are fully capable—they rapidly gain experience within their first two years and begin flourishing quickly in their posts with the right coaching. Meanwhile, more experienced workers sometimes carry the baggage of deeply ingrained, poor habits that are difficult to correct. They can also cost a firm more and have fewer future years to contribute.

Have you looked through the experience lens carefully? What have you found are the best ways to measure the right person for your team beyond a simple weighing of years? How do you avoid the experience trap?


Stay ahead of the learning curve and avoid the experience trap by attending a complimentary Helping Clients Succeed webcast.

About the Author

Randy Illig

Randy Illig is the Global Practice Leader of FranklinCovey’s Sales Performance Practice and the co-author of Let’s Get Real Or Let’s Not Play. With more than 25 years of experience ranging from direct sales and general manager to successful entrepreneur, CEO and board member, Randy leads the global sales performance practice team as we help our clients build high performance sales and sales leadership teams. Randy is a former recipient of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award, the Ernst & Young “CEO Under 40” award, and the Arthur Andersen Strategic Leadership Award.

Follow on Twitter Follow on Linkedin More Content by Randy Illig
Previous Article
Why Helping Clients Succeed Is the Big Opportunity
Why Helping Clients Succeed Is the Big Opportunity

Guy Duersch explains how winning with your clients, by helping them succeed, is the key to continued success.

Next Article
Are you inadvertently sabotaging your sales team’s effectiveness?
Are you inadvertently sabotaging your sales team’s effectiveness?

Randy Illig shares some inadvertent behaviors of sales leaders that actually sabotage their teams effective...