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Sheryl Sandberg says it’s important to hire for skills not specific experience

Hiring the right people is one of the biggest challenges for any company. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has some advice coming from Meg Whitman, current CEO of Hewlett-Packard Enterprise.

Sheryl Sandberg has had quite an impressive career. From politics to building a major part of Google’s business with AdWords and AdSense to now being one of the most important people in Facebook.

She moved to Silicon Valley in 2000 and wanted to start a career in tech. It was then when she says she received one of the most important advices for hiring. It’s a story she told LinkedIn cofounder and Greylock Partners investor Reid Hoffman in an interview for his podcast “Masters of Scale”, BusinessInsider reported.

At first Sandberg had a series of interviews with other companies and she was told she doesn’t have the necessary exprience. Sandberg then met with Meg Whitman who was at the time CEO of eBay. Sandberg told her from the start she doesn’t have the necessary experience, but she would still love to work with her.

“No one has any experience, because no one’s ever done this before. I want to hire people with great skills. Hopefully you have great skills”, said Whitman, according to Sandberg. Sheryl took that advice to heart.

Later, when she joined Google, she started applying that lesson. She focused on skills, instead of experience. “I was going to go hire the best and brightest,” she told Hoffman. “People who were going to bring their passion and dedication and work hard.”

In 2006 Whitman herself talked about her strategy of skills over experience at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. The short explanation is to fill key positions with people who have more skills that are needed at the given moment. This way Whitman says she hired “ahead of the curve” and these skilled people could grow the company.

In more detail, Whitman says she usually asked candidates about learning moments during their careers and asked questions that would help her see the person’s strengths and weaknesses. She did the same with Sandberg and wanted to find out whether her experience in politics resulted in good management skills needed in eBay.

Today Sandberg also adds she paired this approach with Mark Zuckerberg’s way of thinking about hiring: You should never hire someone to work for you unless you would work for them.

Moral of the story: If you’re an individual, work on building and developing your skills. If you are a manager or HR, look for these people and/or help them hone their skills even more.

Image credit: Flickr (CC) / Datuna Otfinowski/Fortune Most Powerful Women