Whether you’re growing your business or just facing a challenging project, you know it’s important to scale with care. Whom you choose to work with can be the factor that pushes you closer toward your goals. When assessing candidates, you’ve likely run up against a conundrum: Do you need experience, or are potential and raw talent enough? Which should you hire for, and why?

Chances are, the first thing you look for is experience. And while hiring for experience is not a mistake, hiring only for experience can be. To get the full picture, it’s important to look also at individuals’ soft skills, determine if they’re a good fit, and gauge their potential.

Experience and potential each has its own strengths, so the question becomes: Which do you need more?

The pros of potential

Gone are the days when years of experience were the primary indicator of achievement. Workers today are more likely to spend just two to four years in a role, but that doesn’t mean they lack commitment—or aren’t gaining valuable (and varied) knowledge.

David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom summed it up nicely: “Contrary to the popular myth, new hires have intentions of… becoming part of something bigger than themselves, and producing great work. They intend to come into an organization and make a noticeable difference. They intend to be awesome.” Other benefits of hiring those new to the game include:

They’ve got fresh ideas. Without a lot of preconceived notions of what has and hasn’t worked in prior roles, someone fresh out of the gates may be more open to new ideas and bring more of their own to the table. If you’re trying to innovate and iterate, potential might be right for you.

They’re adaptable. If you’re growing and trying new processes to see what works for you, it’s helpful to have someone who can handle change well. With potential, you’re less likely to be battling old habits.

They’re affordable. As experience progresses, often so do rates, unless someone is willing to take a pay cut to accept a position they’re passionate about. Overall, less experienced individuals charge less until they have enough experience to command a higher rate.

The pros of experience

Experience isn’t just years on the job; it can include training, certifications, and advanced education. Experienced talent can take a lot of the uncertainty out of the hiring process for you because it’s pretty clear what you’re getting. Other pros include:

They understand risk and best practices. Hindsight can be 20/20—and very valuable. In some cases, past successes and failures better equip an individual to make tough decisions (and exercise appropriate caution).

They’re more independent. You should expect to do less hand-holding. With experience comes confidence and self-assurance, which makes them valuable for fast-paced organizations and projects that need a steady guide.

They have broader perspective. Even just understanding more about how organizations work, or what other teams do and how it relates, can be valuable. For example, if a marketer understands the mobile development process after launching a few apps, he or she may be better at estimating budgets, creating timelines, and pulling assets.

So which do you need?

Experience may be worth every penny on projects such as…

  • Complex software development and programming
  • Mission-critical network security
  • Nailing down a complex UI for a new mobile app
  • High-quality, long-form written content
  • High-visibility projects like rebrands

But you may want to hire for potential for…

  • Graphic design and illustration for supporting marketing materials
  • Light, punchy, and engaging written content
  • Smaller development projects and bug fixes
  • Low-stakes social media marketing and engagement

Here are some other questions to help you determine which type is right for you.

1. Is the hire for a new line of business?

Say you’re a small web design business and you want to start offering copywriting to your clients as an add-on service. You’ll probably be just fine with a newer copywriter who has obvious talent and passion in lieu of a big portfolio. He or she will be easier to mold into the kind of copywriter you need, and together you can grow the service. However, if you’re an enterprise-size ad agency offering the full spectrum of creative services and you want to hire a new copywriter to work on a high-profile client, you’ll want someone with experience who knows the ropes and can step right in.

2. How mature (and how big) is your company?

Are you a large organization with lots of hierarchy, structure, and processes, or are you more of a scrappy startup strapped for high-quality talent and in search of someone to grow with you?

All told, when it comes to growing businesses that want enthusiastic, hungry individuals to grow with them, potential can be just as important as experience—maybe even more important.

3. Do you need someone to handle more planning and strategy?

Experience can often be a no-brainer when it comes to hiring for roles that require more planning and oversight of other talent—the “thinkers” vs. the “doers.” But seniority and experience in a role do not always make someone a good candidate for a managerial or strategic role.

4. What kind of hiring manager are you?

Who you are as a manager plays a big part in whom you’ll end up hiring—especially if you’re a “head coach”-style hiring manager who enjoys bringing out the best in someone or a fast-paced “taskmaster” who needs someone who can jump right in and deliver high-quality work without a lot of oversight.

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Know who you are as a hiring manager and you’ll be better able to identify who will be able to rise to the occasion with you.

Whether you need someone with the potential to grow with you or a seasoned veteran to step in and carry your project over the finish line, Upwork has your talent needs covered. The key is to take the leap, write a job post, and get more work done, faster. We also offer Upwork Payroll for your employment needs.