The use of job experience in hiring decisions is ubiquitous. For example, a recent analysis of online job ads showed that over 80 per cent of the ads stated that experience was required or preferred, even for many entry-level jobs. Examples of the types of experience organisations require or prefer include years of work experience, number of previous jobs held, and whether applicants possess experience in the type of job to which they are applying. Organisations assess experience using resumes and applications, as well as during job interviews. Thus, it appears that many human resources (HR) professionals and hiring managers believe it is important that job applicants possess experience.

Past research studies of job experience have found a moderate relationship between experience and job performance. These studies typically focused on the amount of time employees have spent in their current job or organisation and as it relates to job performance in the current job. Unfortunately, these studies suffer from a major limitation: they do not measure pre-hire work experience. Pre-hire work experience involves experience applicants have acquired in other organisations. So, research that relates current experience to job performance does not address the type of pre-hire experiences recruiters and decision-makers must assess when they evaluate job applicants. Thus, our research focuses on pre-hire work experience to understand the issues facing decision-makers.

We used meta-analysis to combine the results of a large number of previous studies on pre-hire experience. Meta-analysis is a research method that involves finding as many studies as possible on a given topic. Meta-analysis then mathematically combines the results of previous studies into one overall picture representing what the field knows on a given topic. We reviewed over 1,500 studies (including journal articles, doctoral dissertations, and convention papers) for potential inclusion in the meta-analysis.

We examined the relationship between pre-hire experience and several outcomes that may be of concern to organisations: job performance, training performance, and turnover. First, we found 44 studies that reported a correlation between the amount or type of experience employees possessed prior to entering an organisation and performance in their current job (e.g., as evaluated by their supervisors). The relationship between the two variables was quite weak. Second, some organisations may be interested in predicting how applicants will perform in long-term training required for particular positions (e.g., law enforcement). We found 21 studies that correlated pre-hire work experience and training performance. This relationship also was weak. Third, we found 32 studies that related pre-hire work experience to future turnover, and found the relationship was essentially zero. That is, there was no relationship between amount of pre-hire work experience and whether employees stay with or leave their new organisation. Overall, our results suggested that pre-hire experience is a poor predictor of outcomes that concern many organisations.

One potential reason for the weak relationships is that most measures of pre-hire work experience do not focus on the quality of the experience. That is, simply being in a job in a previous organisation says nothing about how well applicants performed that job. In addition, experience in one organisation may not always translate into effective performance in another organisation that has a different culture, values, or ways of doing things. Even the same job (or job title) can differ substantially across organisations.

These findings have important implications for HR professionals and hiring managers. Because pre-hire work experience is a poor predictor of future performance, organisations are probably eliminating applicants who would perform well if hired (nor are they effectively screening out future poor performers). Thus, organisations might want to reduce their dependence on these measures and consider selection procedures that possess a better track record of correlating with job performance. For example, cognitive ability tests, structured interviews, situational judgment tests, and college grade point average are relatively better predictors of future job performance. The weak relationships between pre-hire work experience and outcomes also leaves organisations open to adverse impact/discrimination claims. For example, if applicants of certain protected groups (e.g., females, racial minorities, disabled individuals) possess fewer opportunities to gain pre-hire work experience, they might be less likely to be hired. If so, the weak relationship between pre-hire work experience and performance on the job would make it difficult for organisations to legally defend their hiring decisions.

Overall, the results of our research suggest that pre-hire work experience does not tend to be a good indicator of how job applicants will perform during training or on the job, nor does pre-hire work experience predict retention. Consequently, HR professionals and hiring managers may want to rethink their use of this commonly used hiring/screening assessment.

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Chad Van Iddekinge is the Bank of America professor of management at The Florida State University, where he directs the organisational behaviour and human resources doctoral program. His research focuses on how organisations make staffing decisions and how those decisions affect job applicants and the quality and diversity of a firm’s workforce. He is a fellow of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP), the American Psychological Association (APA), the Association for Psychological Science (APS), and the Human Resources Research Organization (HumRRO). He is a past associate editor of Personnel Psychology and currently serves on the editorial boards of Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Management, and Personnel Psychology.

John D. Arnold is a doctoral candidate in organisational behaviour and human resources management at Florida State University and holds an MBA from the University of Georgia. His primary research interests centre on human resources staffing, including how organisations attract and evaluate applicants. He has published research in several academic journals.

 

Rachel E. Frieder is an assistant professor of management within the University of North Florida’s Coggin College of Business. She holds a doctorate degree in organisational behaviour and human resources management from Florida State University and a Bachelor of Science in finance from the University of Florida. Her primary research interests involve how individuals get ahead at work with an emphasis on topics such as adaptive (e.g., social skill) and maladaptive personality traits (e.g., psychopathy), constructive and destructive forms of leadership, organisational politics, and work relationship quality. She has published her research in top-tier journals.

Philip Roth is Trevillian distinguished professor of management at Clemson University.Phil’s research interests involve employee selection, political affiliation, and social media in organisations. He is a fellow of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology and the American Psychological Society. Phil is past chair of the Research Methods Division of the Academy of Management and has served seven years on the executive committee of the Human Resources Division of the Academy of Management. He earned his PhD from the University of Houston.