The three little words on every job listing: must have experience. As a small business owner, you’ve probably been on both sides of this equation. You probably know as well as anyone that there are plenty of young people out there looking for jobs and many of them have little or no experience. There are also different definitions of “no experience”: no job experience at all (people ages 16 to 20), no experience in that field, or no experience outside of school. So which of these types of people should you hire and when, if it all? Should you give them a chance in your business or is the risk too high?

The answer depends somewhat on the type of small business you run. Is it a technical trade such as an auto repair company or computer programming? These types of businesses are better off hiring someone who has been trained and has experience in those specific areas. Does your company perform skilled labor such as painting, carpentry, or construction? Then you want to look for people with general work experience who are hard-working and are able to handle the physical demands of the job. They don’t have to a lot of experience in that specific position because a lot of the work can be learned on-the-job through training by other employees. How about a small business that is need of administrative or other office positions? You should look for people who have specific skills in the software programs you use, typing, filing, and general office communications. Depending on the position, you might look for someone with an Associate’s degree or you may be able to hire someone with a year or so of office experience.

Many young people get their first job experience in the food or retail industry. If you run a small store and are looking for a part-time employee, students make a great fit for this type of position because it’s something they can do around their class schedules to build their sales skills. Some positions with business to business sales or direct marketing warrant previous sales experience. However, it is always best to look at what each individual has to offer no matter what set of credentials they have. Often, people start their work experience as a server, cashier, or food prep worker at a local deli, bakery, or restaurant. If you run a business that needs these types of positions, it is pretty safe to hire a young person with little or no experience because they can learn on the job fairly quickly. However, expect at least a few of the positions to fluctuate between open and filled more frequently than others because people tend to work in the food industry “for now” until they obtain a position in their career field.  As a restaurant or small food company owner or head manager, come up with a standard hiring procedure for these positions so you are ready to use it when you need to.

Of course, there are some positions at many companies that require at least a Bachelor’s degree, many years of experience, or both. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide, but you can see that hiring someone without experience is appropriate is some cases. Want to give a young worker a chance but aren’t sure if you can afford to do so? Hire someone as an unpaid intern or apprentice first, then possibly bring them on as a paid employee later. Students often need internships for part of their college credits, and it will give them experience and you a chance to see if they will work out long-term.


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