Why no experience can be the best thing for you

Last week, a member of a Facebook group I belong to posed a question about how to counter the “no experience” argument.

He’s a consultant and has been given the opportunity to put a proposal forward for a really big job with a company in an industry he’s new to. He asked the group how he should best address the “no industry experience” argument that he was sure to get.

no experienceThere were a number of answers – let them try you out before charging them, give them a money-back guarantee, try to find a connection who can give a testimonial – all of which, while trying to be extremely helpful, were about seeing this lack of experience as a negative.

I couldn’t resist throwing my two cents into this one. You see, I’ve been on the receiving end of this for the last corporate job I applied for. That particular company was a very well known provider of credit cards and they were looking for someone from one of their 3 competitors to take the role so they could bring “knowledge of the industry and how it’s done here” to the business.

To my way of thinking, that’s ridiculous. Isn’t the whole point of bringing someone new in to “break the mold” and do things differently rather than bringing in someone who does the same thing – but just getting them to do it for a different company?

So that’s how I framed my answer to the gentleman in the Facebook group. I said to him that rather than putting a negative spin on his lack of industry experience, he should point out the benefits of having someone who doesn’t know “how it’s done here” and how that allows him the advantage of being able to look at the business with fresh – and disruptive – eyes.

Disruption is what it’s all about these days (but more about that in my next blog).

My Workible Co-Founder, Alli, and I had no industry experience in either recruitment or technology when we started our business. Given we have a recruitment technology business, you’d think that that was madness. But it wasn’t. What it was was an opportunity to look at a problem and an industry and re-invent the wheel. We had the luxury of giving ourselves free reign to say “how do we think it should work” without any preconceived ideas of how it “should”.

The result is that we’ve invented a totally disruptive platform that, we believe, will change the way recruitment is done. And that’s the benefit of no experience.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re applying for your first job or your next job, or applying for a huge consulting contract like my Facebook pal, don’t let your lack of experience hold you back. In fact, it’s a huge advantage so spin it that way. You bring a fresh set of eyes to a business, and it allows you to think outside the square.

As an employer, I’m always happy to employ people with no experience – for that very reason. And any savvy business owner, presented with that argument, would see it that way as well. Let what others see as your biggest disadvantage, be the advantage you have over everyone else.

Why no experience can be the best thing for you

Are you brave enough to ask the hard questions?

Last week we did something really scary. We asked our users what they didn’t like about Workible.

Yes, it’s a pretty gutsy move.

The idea came from an article I read about how engaged users can help you grow a business. It seemed like, on the surface, a great idea. Give people some vested interest in helping to create what you want and they’ll be more invested in it. Sounds reasonable. But the sceptic in myWorkible questions wondered whether they really cared or whether they’d use this opportunity to point out all of the little things they hated.

We spent quite a bit of time agonizing over exactly how we would phrase the survey to “soften any blows”. How would we phrase the questions so that we limited feeling totally ripped apart by the answers? In the middle of the conversation about just that, we decided not to. We decided we wanted the warts and all feedback.

You see, if we’ve built a product that sucks, then we want to know about it before we waste any more time going down that road. (BTW, we don’t think we have – but it’s not really our opinion that counts).

So we put together a survey giving users every opportunity to bag us out, and then held our collective breaths and pressed send.

Within a few hours we had hundreds of responses – and they kept coming in the next day and the one after. And we learnt a massive lesson.

First of all, we were absolutely thrilled with the results. Not only did we have oodles of suggestions as to how to improve, we got tons of feedback on the little things that people wanted. What surprised us more was how engaged people were in telling us how to build the product they wanted – and, amid all the suggestions, how positive they all were..

To be honest, most of the suggestions are already in the pipeline (which is proof that we are on the right track), but we did get some extra gems as well.

Some wanted us to get in touch to help them with their profiles and applications. Some told us that they loved Workible and not to change a thing (although that wasn’t the point of this exercise.) And some of the suggestions also centered around how we should do more surveys and keep asking these questions. What a relief!

The thing is – had we never been brave enough to open ourselves up to a possible barrage of criticism, then we would have never had this insight from the very people who determine our success (or failure).

Our commitment back to each and every one of the people who answered the survey – yes, it’s time consuming but we figure it’s a great relationship builder.

Interestingly, the last question we asked was “Would you refer Workible to a friend?”. After giving them 11 different opportunities to talk about what they don’t like, we were thrilled to get over 90% of yesses.

So here’s the kicker…

Your customers, clients or users are the ones who will determine whether your business fails or succeeds – and will determine the level at which you do either. Don’t be arrogant enough to think you know what they want. Ask.

Be brave enough to take the criticism on the chin. Most people won’t so you’ll stand out for that alone.

Our exercise in asking has shown us a couple of things. One is that lots of people are willing to help you. Secondly, people do feel more engaged in a product when they can contribute to its development. And thirdly, don’t make assumptions about anything.

Are you brave enough to ask the hard questions?