The Aristocracy of Experience

Years of industry experience, titles and fancy degrees never really got me excited. In the Army, I worked with plenty of officers from West Point who I wouldn’t trust to lead a shift at my local McDonald’s, and I worked with plenty of NCO’s from special operations units with all the tabs and schools you could ask for that were fat, out of shape and incompetent. Having experience and formal schooling is great, but it never replaces drive and ambition. Or simply showing up, being the right man for the job and figuring it out… Execution has always been key.

I see this all the time in the business world. “He’s got 12 years industry experience, we’ll go with him”. Great idea, in theory. But what does someone’s experience say about them? If they have above average results and a track record of success, that’s great. On the other hand, if they are a product of a high-caliber environment and received great coaching, they may have been a byproduct of their culture and environment and not necessarily the contributing factor to success.

Army Separation Chapter 18 Failure to meet body fat standards

This guy has more time in a combat zone than a newly minted 2nd Lieutenant but what is that experience worth?

It made me laugh the other week when one of our “high powered” Vice President’s told us he wanted to hire someone who “really knows the business”. I work in the Medical Device field, there isn’t too much to “the business”. Most of it comes down to basic people skills, hustle and grind, and studying your product thoroughly to know the ins and outs of the procedure.

They had already hired a guy with about 18 years of industry experience and he whined and cried every time he had to leave a 30 minute radius of his house. He’d walk into a hospital system, ask to speak to the business administrator, get told no, and then go back home. No asking for when she’s available, no asking if there was a way to see the doctor directly, and no creative problem solving or hustle involved.

When we bring a new product into a large hospital system, it has to go before a committee. On our end, this usually involves identifying members of the committee, dates the committee will meet, and supplying the necessary scientific review literature to both the committee and it’s individual members. It can take a bit of Google-Fu, but it’s usually a 30-45 minute process done at a starbucks or home office. Easy stuff that we dream of for a job. This “experienced” businessman didn’t even know when the board was meeting for the single largest hospital system in his territory!

I contrast this to one of the other “experienced” guys I worked with. Prior to a sales call, a meeting with a doctor or any next steps, he would already have his product in committee, through the board and ready for use by the doctors. I asked him about this once and he laughed at me “Anytime you meet someone in this industry who has trouble getting a product through committees either doesn’t know what they’re doing or they’re lazy. Maybe both, what do I know?”

He went from being a bottom rung in revenue to one of the top earners. It was great to see the difference between the two. The first guy would say things like “this was easier before we had all the stupid excel spreadsheets and SalesForce” the second guy called up HR and IT and asked for them to schedule a training session on how to use Excel and Salesforce!

My take? I broke into a notoriously hard to get into industry that pays well and treats their employees great by stressing my intangibles and past success. I didn’t try and make my past experience shoehorn into industry experience and I didn’t frame interview questions to try and make myself seem like a seasoned industry pro. I talked about what I did in the Army, what I did at my current job and told them the skills I developed and why it’s important to have folks like me on their team. I didn’t care about being the man, if I opened the door for another combat veteran or down on their luck millennial, I’d be happy about that too.

At the end of the day it boils down to two things (most of the time): You can be handed a golden territory and coast for years, never really learning anything or putting in much effort. The same way you can have a skillset that would take perfectly to a new job in a new industry that might require a few months of coaching but you’ll quickly outshine your peers. Management should be confident in identifying both types and include a healthy mix in their work force… Peter The Great had little formal education and schooling, but he got plenty of things done!

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