interviewing – knowledge vs experience vs skill

When trying to explain the difference between knowledge and experience, I heard someone jokingly mention a formula between the two.  While there isn’t really a formula (at least as far as I know), his point is still important.  When interviewing, knowledge, experience and skill all come into play.   Let’s look at the differences.

Knowledge

  • Questions: Do you know how to do what needs to be done?  Do you know where to find out?
  • Example:  Do you know how to read in a file so you can go through it and look for data?
  • Why it matters: While technology changes fast, the ability to find knowledge quickly, is an asset.  And caching it in your head or knowing what to look for in the API makes things faster.
  • Where it is on the resume: list of technologies.  Which tends to be buzzwords over depth.  After all, if you list “Spring”, you could have just heard of it or be an expert.

Skill

  • Questions: Do you know how to identify what needs to be done?
  • Example: Do you realize using scanner with a regular expression can make the problem trivial?
  • Why it matters: Solving the right problem is what makes development part art (and not all science.)
  • Where it is on the resume: Sometimes shows up in the form of on the job accomplishments, but often has to be determined by talking to the person.

Experience

  • Questions:  Have you done something similar?  What worked?  What didn’t?
  • Example: Do you identify this is the wrong problem to be solving and a better one would be to ….?
  • Why it matters:  Who wants to repeat the mistakes of the past!
  • Where it is on the resume: In some form, it is on the resume as number of years.  However, this doesn’t show what the person actually learned.  I’ve met people who have managed to learn almost nothing in 7-10 years.

Why this matters at an interview

An interviewer should be interested in all three of these.  (Plus potential, fit and many other things.).  Everyone has some experience.  If you are entry level, it might have come from school or a toy project.

What do you think?  Post here or in the coderanch jobs discussion forum.

7 thoughts on “interviewing – knowledge vs experience vs skill

  1. All three are important, but this is one of those areas where (to quote Dan Pink) “there is a gap between what science knows and business does”. Thanks to our education system, we are heavily skewed toward assessing *knowledge* rather than skill (largely because knowledge is so much easier to put in a test). And in studies on expertise, the amount of experience is *not* a good predictor of performance beyond the first two years (the “ten years of experience vs. one year repeated 10 times” phenomenon).

    So assessing skill — as their level of expertise — is potentially more useful than knowledge and experience (beyond some minimum threshold level of knowledge and experience, of course), but it is difficult to do. In the studies on professional performance, ericsson defined expertise as something like, “given a representative task in the domain, an expert will consistently/reliably demonstrate better choices”. One thing that did come out of these studies is that it IS possible to find a smallish subset of tasks that correlate to how someone will perform across most other tasks in the domain, but again, it takes work to figure out what those representative tasks are.

    In Chess, for example, they were able to identify just a few positions that accurately predicted how a chess player would perform in tournaments overall. So in 15 minutes or less, they could determine how strong that chess player really was. There are some representative tasks in music and some technical fields, too. I am really interested in this right now 🙂

    Sorry for the long, rambling comment.
    TL;DR: you are right, all three are needed, but skill assessment should be weighted much more heavily than knowledge or experience, especially for anyone with more than 18 months to two years of experience.

  2. I think the most important question is – “who do you know at this company?”

    That seems to trump any skills, knowledge, and experience.

  3. Depends on the recommender I guess. I won’t recommend someone without skills. For knowledge and experience it depends on the position. Some knowledge and experience matter even for an entry level position. How closely it maps is another story.

  4. Unfortunately, Peter is sometimes correct. People hire unqualified friends/families for jobs all the time, in pretty much every industry. These days it’s referred to as “networking”, but nepotism has been around for a very long time.

  5. Experience can be hard to beat (although there can be exceptions). The software industry is unique in that experience can trump education levels. Give me someone with 10 plus years of experience over a freshly graduated Masters grad anyday.
    As far as those who have learned nothing in 7-10 years…that’s not normal and there is probably something else going on. Its just not trying and I would think an interview process and checking with past managers and referrals would flush those type of issues out.

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