Hiring for Experience vs. Enthusiasm

Feb 3, 2012

(article originally published August 10, 2010)

When I’m hiring someone for my team one of the key things I consider is:

How HUNGRY are they for the opportunity?

Most business owners are looking for experience – they want to know if someone has done something before, how successful they were at it, etc. This is certainly an important consideration in hiring people imo, BUT it might not be quite as important as you think.

When it comes to adding someone to my team, I am a huge fan of looking at how “hungry” someone is for the opportunity. How excited are they about the opportunity? What do they love about my business and what we do? Can I feel their energy and enthusiasm? Are they chomping at the bit to work with me and my team?

I would much rather have someone who is oozing enthusiasm on my team than someone who doesn’t have much enthusiasm but knows how to do stuff.

It’s their enthusiasm that will drive the work – if someone has a lot of experience but they aren’t excited about the work they are doing, it will show (and can actually cause big problems). Someone with enthusiasm is willing to learn on the fly, figure things out as needed in order to get the job done. They are willing to go the extra mile and want to have fun in the process. They are also the ones who tend to stick around the longest, because you’ve given them an opportunity to learn and there is a loyalty that comes alongside that.

Now the thing is, quite often the people who are “hungriest” for the opportunity aren’t always the ones with the most experience. (That’s actually true in many cases.) So what to do? How do you know if you should hire the person with more experience vs. the person who is “hungrier” and more excited?

If you hire someone with less experience, that might require some more attention and patience from your end as the business owner – there may be additional training involved, and it could take a bit longer for some things to get done in the learning stage. Depending on what you are hiring for and how quickly you need them to be able to engage, this could be a consideration.

There are a few things to look for to make sure that you don’t hire someone who is excited but might sink instead of swim:

  • What kind of training (or certification) do they have? Have they invested their own time, money and energy in learning new skills? This can be a good indication of how serious they are about the work they want to do and what they are willing to invest to bring it to life.
  • What kind of support system do they have for themselves? Are they part of a community of peers or do they work with a mentor that they can turn to when they do have questions? As I always say, as virtual support professionals we don’t need to know everything… we just need to know where we can find the answers.
  • What kind of business structure do they have? Have they set themselves up as a professional business? If they have invested in getting themselves incorporated, registered or whatever is necessary to set up an “official” business (which can vary by location) this is an indication that they are dedicated to their business and in it for real (vs. just giving it a try).

Curious for your thoughts? Would you rather hire someone with experience or enthusiasm? When have you done either one (and how has it worked or not)?


  1. Shannon Mack

    Great article Tina! I have been hiring and conducting interviews for 10 years and I really try to find a balance between the experience and enthusiasm. Experience can come from all kinds of sources not just in direct line to the position you are hiring for. Look at other things on the resume like how active the person is in volunteer organizations for example and is the person trainable. I always say, skills are learned, personality is what will fit in the organization.

    • tinaforsyth

      ditto that

  2. Heather Hansen

    3 weeks ago I was faced with exactly this situation. I was hiring my first, on-site assistant who was to be in the office with me 4-5 hours every morning. I interviewed 8 people for the job and, in the end, was left with 2 candidates: the experienced one and the enthusiastic one. I really struggled over making my decision, and I am SO glad I chose the enthusiastic one. She is hungry. She wants to learn. She is dedicated to my vision. She makes my office just a little bit brighter, and in turn, I feel brighter! There has been a shift. Definitely the right decision, and thank you for making me feel even better about it!

    • tinaforsyth

      Love this Heather – especially re: feeling brighter. 🙂

  3. Elizabeth

    I am all about hiring for enthusiasm!  I was able to start my business because one business owner took a chance on me.  I didn’t have the much experience, but was hungry and dedicated to growing her business.  If you have the drive, there is always opportunity to develop you skill set and build your experience.

  4. Lori Benns

    LOVE this!  It’s so true…you can teach skills but if the passion is lacking for what you do then the enthusiasm to work within that environment is going to be missing.  That will show in what they bring to the table and that doesn’t help anyone!

  5. Geri Lafferty

    I couldn’t agree more.  You can always teach/learn a skill.  Attitude and enthusiasm go a long way to how easily those skills are mastered and willingly undertaken.

  6. Kristi Pavlik

    Great post Tina.  I agree – you can teach skill, but not passion/enthusiasm/personality.

  7. Chrissie Bettencourt

    I would much rather hire someone based on enthusiasm.  When someone has drive and passion they will naturally learn quickly something that they are not familiar with.  And in the process potentially provide new ways to do it or look at things.  Someone who already knows how to do the job has no learning curve.  And learning is one of the key motivators for people in their work.  We grow through learning, so without that we remain stagnant.  Hence boredom.  And I wouldn’t want a bored employee on board 🙂


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