Tenure vs. Skill – Who Gets the Job?

                Should businesses rely on tenure or education to promote or hire?  Should leaders look for experience or skill when trying to solve a problem? It is a hard balance but one that should be explored.  New college graduates are full of ideas, techniques and technology.  Their enthusiasm and drive is an asset to any leader or organization.  One hesitation is lack of experience.  While learning various aspects of a subject through academic means is necessary for the base foundation, application of the knowledge is different.  Through internships and other learning programs, students try to bridge the gap towards understanding real-world use of their education.  However, there is nothing like being in a position, with full responsibility for the team and its accomplishments.  Even leadership taught at service academies (of which I myself am a graduate) does not necessarily translate to direct success after graduation.  The lessons of leadership, along with appropriate use of knowledge, take time to learn.

                That leads us to the other side of the equation – tenure.  Should someone who has been in a position for years be “rewarded” with promotions?  I’ve seen it happen more than once where loyal employees had a powerful advantage.  According to the New Haven Register, in 2010 the average time employees stayed at a job was 4.4 years.  When businesses look at the amount of time and money it takes to hire someone new, train them to be successful within their company and then lose that knowledge if that employee leaves, it is reasonable to value longevity.  Longevity means someone is intimately familiar with that particular company and job.  He or she understands the processes as well as the people in order to get the job done.  That is a powerful mix.

                So what should win out when there is an opportunity for advancement?  To be honest, it is a tough question with no one-size-fits-all answer.  Someone who has been with the company for years may be perfect because of his or her in-depth knowledge regarding the job.  The watch-out is someone who is unwilling to change.  It is easy to fall into a trap of “this is the way it’s always been done” without consideration for alternative methods.  A younger, energized person may also leave the company if it is perceived that promotions are not a part of their 3-5 year career plan. Generationally, Millennials look for the next level and expect to have some kind of step forward within the short-term future. 

Ultimately there is a balance but my thought is this: The education a new college graduate brings to an organization is a valuable quality but education must be “seasoned” with experience.   If a long-term leader can be a mentor for an up-and-coming superstar, there is the opportunity for everyone to win. 

-Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team


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