By Jeff Rebh

The general answer to this question is enthusiasm. But keep reading. Enthusiasm alone doesn’t cut it.

The return in hiring the less-experienced candidate is worth it under these key conditions: he or she is the right cultural fit for your company. He or she has the soft skills (collaboration, strong communication, management expertise) to get the job done. Assuming the candidate meets these criteria—and proves to have a good attitude, determined mindset, and strong competency—go with the enthusiastic candidate over the one who looks good on paper.

Technical skills can be taught. Personality cannot.

Hiring the inexperienced candidate will be an investment at first. He or she may require a bit of extra training, and will have a slightly steeper learning curve—but it will pay off if the candidate is the right fit for the company. Why? Here are some pros to consider:

  • You can shape the candidate from the start. Hiring someone inexperienced means you can mold the employee how you wish from the start. Training them from scratch is often a lot easier than undoing 10 years of bad habits. Some advice: Offer inexperienced candidates classes or mentoring opportunities to facilitate a culture of learning. This keeps them motivated outside of work so that they are happier in the job you hired them for day to day.
  • Inexperience breeds motivation for good performance. Inexperienced candidates, fresh on the scene, are often the ones with the highest work ethic. They are new, and they are thankful that someone gave them the opportunity to get their foot in the door.
  • Enthusiasm will drive the work. Hire someone who is hungry for the job, as opposed to someone who has done it before and is just there for a paycheck. The most eager candidates aren’t always the ones with the most experience. New-on-the-scene hires will often go the extra mile to get the job done. They’ll be the ones to stay an extra hour to make sure that report is delivered on time.
  • It’s worth the investment. Face-value, inexperienced candidates cost less than experienced ones. If you have job roles that can be handled by both experienced and inexperienced candidates, hire the less-experienced candidate if he or she is a better fit for the company. To lower risk, consider a three-month trial period, in which the employee will work up to an evaluation date where the contract is either extended or terminated. While intimidating, this short-term period will set the tone and drive motivation for employees to start of on a great foot. Should your hire prove unsuccessful, it will give you an out if you find that he or she is not the right fit.

Ultimately, what the company needs—for both the short and long term—should guide who is hired, and at what level of seniority. It’s all contextual, but a good place to start is to consider the specific job and daily tasks. Some questions to ask are:

  • What nature of work will the candidate engage in day to day?
  • Will the candidate be client-facing?
  • How quickly do we need the candidate to get into the actual project grunt work?

If the answer to the last question is “right away,” perhaps go with someone more experienced for the short term. Consider a freelancer—experienced in “the drill”—who can jump right in and get it done in the interim if the timeline is tight.

The most successful companies, often with the happiest employees, don’t just hire for either experience or enthusiasm—they hire for fit. When it comes to hiring, the smartest companies look past the resume to recruit candidates from all backgrounds, skill levels, and walks of life.