In the Battle for Digital Talent, Job Tenure Counts

There has never been more data available to help you evaluate talent. For any incoming candidate, a recruiter has social media profiles, LinkedIn, resumes, phone conversations, interviews, references, and more at their fingertips to aid in making an educated hiring decision.

But this wealth of data poses its own challenge: How do you tell what's relevant and what's just a red herring? If a candidate has 35 endorsements for Java development on LinkedIn, does this mean they are a Java expert – or did they get all of their friends to endorse them for that skill?

In this day and age, it's easy for a candidate to create a robust digital image, and interviewing skills are taught ubiquitously. This means it is more important than ever to pay attention to a recruiting variable that can't be faked: job tenure.

Why Job Tenure Matters

Since starting WeFind, one of the most important lessons I have learned is time with your team matters. Time builds trust and experience, and when bad things happen – which they inevitably always do – I rely on my team members who have been with me the longest to act quickly so we can live to fight another day. We've built relationships together, they know everything about my product, and they take pride in making sure our customers are happy.

A Cornell review of job tenure and performance found that more tenure isn't always better, but in complex roles, greater job tenure correlated with higher performance. The study states that "such jobs require more time to acquire proficiency in solving problems and tasks." In the digital world, complexity is the new normal. Software engineering, UX design, digital marketing, and product management are all highly sophisticated roles that require analytical and creative skill sets if a candidate is to succeed.

Since digital jobs are more complex, analyzing a candidate's tenure in prior roles allows recruiters to more accurately measure the value of their experience. Any two candidates can get 35 endorsements on LinkedIn for Java development, but the candidate who was a Java developer for one year can't match the experience of the candidate who was a developer for two years. Experience only comes with time and can't be faked – assuming everyone is honest on their resumes. The second Java developer has had one more year to experience the trials and tribulations of development, like managing last-minute product deadlines or coping with site outages.

The Job Tenure and Digital Talent Paradox

A big challenge when it comes to analyzing the job tenure of digital talent is that many candidates don't have it. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, talent in digital roles like software and web developers tends to be younger. Younger individuals tend to have less tenure at their jobs, and as a result, many candidates for complex digital jobs have less tenure in roles that require experience. This is one of the major culprits behind a lot of bad hires for digital roles in startups and large companies. Hiring managers are sold expertise on a resume or in an interview, only to find out that the candidates actually knows very little once they've started the role.

How to Solve the Problem – and How Candidates Can Benefit

The Cornell review also cites quality of experience as a strong indicator of performance. The more tasks an individual has done in their job, the more likely they are to perform better. If you have limited job tenure to go off of, it is important in interviews to test how well a candidate can perform the tasks you need them to perform in their day-to-day role. Great ways to test these skills include case interviews and trial periods.

For younger digital candidates, these tests are opportunities to leverage. Younger talent consistently has less tenure at their jobs than older talent. Individuals with longer tenure can differentiate themselves through their experience, because the longer you are at your job, the better you will get at solving complex problems your company has. Younger candidates, on the other hand, need to actively demonstrate their ability to solve complex problems because they don't have tenure to fall back on.

An important caveat is that short tenures arise for a number of reasons. Bad managers exist, bad roles exist, companies go out of business, and life events can force a person out of their job for one reason or another. However, it is important for talent to recognize that changing jobs not only results in the benefit you get from the new role, but also in losing the experience and trust you built at your current company that enables you to do your current job so well. Given this fact, every career move you make should be strategic and should take into account both the gain you get from the new role and the opportunity cost of leaving the old role.

David Sokolow is the Founder and CEO of WeFind, a talent acquisition tech company.