Professional Experience versus Professional Maturity and Why They Are Not the Same Thing

Written by Alex Jimenez

The recruiting process is not easy.  New hires are an investment, and while there are thousands of articles out there with different tips and tricks to improve the hiring process, there are still endless examples of stellar candidates who do not become great employees.  There is no secret sauce to eliminate your risk in this process. Every person is different. Every organization is different. There are too many variables in life and business to ensure a perfect fit. Find what works best for you and your organization, document it, and track your success over the long haul. 

Now that I’ve reminded you of something so clear-cut (thanks for that, Captain Obvious), I want to focus on something more nebulous, but still incredibly important in the recruitment process: professional maturity. Quite frankly, this is something you may not be able to vet until the new hire is onboarding.  There’s a big difference between professional experience and professional maturity—though they often go hand in hand. Making sure you and your organizational leaders understand the difference between the two and have processes in place to evaluate both qualities in a new hire will help tremendously through the onboarding process.

What A Resumé Doesn’t Tell You

Professional experience is easier to measure than professional maturity, especially because experience does not necessarily beget maturity. A resumé is a rearview mirror (I spoke about Rearview Mirror Management here) into the prior work of a candidate.  Sure, a well-written resumé speaks volumes about a candidate’s experience, but a resumé is by no means a guarantee that the candidate is suited for role in your organization.  They have managed client relationships, sure, but did they manage them well?  Did clients enjoy working with them?  Did their client personas align with your client personas?  These are just examples of the gaps that you will find in reviewing resumés. It is a superficial view of a candidate—as if you were only looking at a company’s revenue to judge its success. 

This is why you need a well-documented pool of interview questions to learn more about the so-called soft skills a candidate brings to the table, just as testing or practical exercises may be useful in gauging a candidate’s technical skills.

Then it gets tricky.  Even with great soft-skill questions, there is almost no way to test for professional maturity.  Until you place a new hire in an uncontrolled environment where the stakes are no longer hypothetical, your ability to assess their professional maturity will be hampered.  Like other components of the hiring process, this is where you and your organization will be forced to take a calculated risk.  Do not assume professional maturity can be measured based on the years of experience a candidate has. In theory, a candidate with more experience will have gained some valuable maturity and wisdom along the way, but this is not always true.

Professional Maturity & Successful Onboarding

Let’s say your organization has made a new hire and that employee is now sitting at their desk on their first day.  The honeymoon period begins.  You and your leaders can begin to determine whether the new employee’s professional maturity is the right fit for the future of your organization.  Hard skills will be tested daily as they take on more work. Ramp up periods and learning curves should be expected.  As you assess whether the expectations for this role are being met 30, 60, or 90 days in from a technical perspective, professional maturity questions should go hand-in-hand with that.  

Key Aspects of Professional Maturity & Red Flags:

  • Communication Style:  Their correspondence during the hiring process may have been polished and outstanding, but how do they respond now that they have many different projects on their plate?  Are they able to dedicate the proper time to communicate effectively with other employees and clients?  If the job requires somebody who can move from task to task with little to no drop-off, the communications need to be consistent no matter the workload or level of stress an employee is under.
  • Knowledge Retention & Applying Feedback: I have never expected an employee to learn things on the first go of it.  That said, I do expect to see incremental growth and the desire to improve.  If you see an employee making the same mistakes time and again, in both the soft and hard skill categories, you need to question their ability to learn the job. Beyond that: do they have the personal management skills to improve in those areas?  Are they demonstrating an interest in how feedback helps them grow? Do they simply hear the feedback and move on, treating the task as nothing more than an item on their checklist, or do they seek out other opportunities to apply what they’ve learned?
  • Time Management and Issue Escalation: Does an employee understand how to manage their own workload?  Do they escalate issues or questions in a timely fashion, or do they wait until the last minute?  Do they understand how their work impacts the entire team’s workflow? Again, this is an area that you may need time to assess fully because you will likely add to this person’s plate incrementally.  The employee also needs time to understand and adapt to your organization’s working reality.  When they reach a bottleneck or dilemma, how do they ask for help? How do they prioritize, collaborate, delegate, and reset expectations?  When you set expectations early on, provide regular opportunities to check in about their workload, and clarify what resources or processes are there to help them, you should see incremental improvement.  As they absorb more information about the inner workings of your organization and client relationships, they should gradually become more confident tackling their work and seek help appropriately.  If they continue to wait until the last moment to raise issues, this is a huge red flag and needs to be addressed.

Professional Maturity Needs A Formal Process

You can probably think of many people who have stellar technical skills or great professional experience, but the gaps in their professional maturity make them a challenge to work with. There are plenty of employees who have a solid foundation in these soft skills early in their careers and will continue to grow with experience. Others may still be struggling a decade into their working lives. 

What you can do to mitigate all of this is establish a clear, repeatable process for professional maturity assessments. These can help you make faster, better decisions about whether a new hire is the right long-term fit. Rely on multiple perspectives to understand how someone contributes to the team. Create a team environment and channels where other employees and managers can offer real time, candid, good-faith feedback. This is the fastest way to find red flags and figure out the best way to address the situation. 

Realistically, not every new hire will be the right fit—and that’s a two-way street. Perhaps the professional maturity is not there, or for some other reason it’s just not working out. Of course, you want to give each hire the proper opportunities and resources to prove themselves. Perhaps you hired someone with the potential to mature significantly, but they need the example and mentorship to guide them. Having processes and resources in place to help your team mature professionally is critical, but you also need to assess from early on in their tenure whether professional maturity (or lack thereof) is a true barrier—or something that just needs polish and progress.