Experience: A Blessing Or A Curse?


Ever noticed on job postings how various employers state the level of experience they’d ideally like to see in their applicants? I’m sure you have seen the ads calling for 6 months to a year, 5 years experience etc. If significant experience is always better, how come you seldom if ever see an ad looking for 25 years or more experience? Some actually indicate no experience is required whatsoever!

The level of experience sought as ideal depends on a number of factors. When an employer specifically states that no experience is necessary – even preferred – you might ponder why. What they are really communicating here is that they don’t mind taking the extra time it’s going to require to train you and train you their way. They are counting on saving time actually by not having to wait while you unlearn behaviours you picked up from past employment.

Now it isn’t always the case that the job is relatively simple and anyone can acquire the skills, but I’ve seen ads that do say it’s more the right person they are looking for not experience someone has had. These employers feel that finding the right people outweighs actual experience. I suppose most of us can identify people in jobs who have the technical skills to perform the work but their attitude and priorities seem at odds with the actual job they are paid to do. It’s these kind of people many employers would love to avoid hiring in the first place.

So why would some job postings advertise that 6 months to a year is the ideal experience they are looking for? When you see these postings, interpret the employers’ message as meaning that enough experience is required so you know what you’re getting into and you’ll like it, but don’t have so much experience that you’ll do things the way you’ve done them elsewhere. These organizations want to avoid hiring people with no experience who initially sound and look motivated to do the work but who once in the job, discover they really aren’t cut out for it after all and quit to look for other kinds of work. They may in fact have a really solid work ethic, they just discovered they don’t like doing the job they signed on to do having never done it before.

Now the ad requesting 3-5 years’ experience. Here the company is communicating a higher value placed on previous experience actually doing the same work elsewhere. They figure over that time you’ve learned the ropes, made your big mistakes elsewhere as you cut your teeth on the job. What they are banking on is that having done the work before for several years, you have a really good and thorough understanding of what is involved and you’ll be up to speed in a pretty short adjustment period. You can expect less formal training and a higher expectation that you’ll be productive faster than someone coming onboard with less experience. They see you as trainable; you know a little but can do things their way.

Now suppose you’re someone looking for work with significantly more experience. Say you’ve got 15 – 25 year’s of experience doing exactly the same thing the employer has expressed is their current need. You’re a shoe-in for this job! Surely once you get your resume in front of them they’ll pull that, “Help Wanted” sign out of the window won’t they? “Help Wanted” sign? Do they still do that? If you’ve got 25 year’s experience you might expect they do only to find a lot has changed in the quarter century since you’ve been looking for work.

To many employers, extensive experience is more of something to avoid than it is an attraction. They are worried you’ll bring your bad habits with you, you’ll be set in your ways, you’ll say things like, “Well that’s not how we did things at such-and-such when I was there”. Well you’re not there any more and this employer doesn’t want resistance when trying to get its workforce working cohesively in the same direction. They are cautious of hiring old dogs who can’t or won’t learn new tricks, folks that are set in their ways. 25 year’s experience? They picture people using out-dated technologies and practices.

However, there are employers who would love to have applicants approach them with what they see as the perfect combination of experience and attitude. It’s hard to go wrong if you are genuinely open to learning new procedures and best practices, you’ve stayed current in your training to complement your experience; if you can demonstrate your use of modern technology and bring energy and enthusiasm to your work. Now your experience is truly an asset.

Here’s a tip however right from employers: If the job calls for 2-5 year’s experience and you’ve got 15 year’s of direct experience, DON’T state this on your resume expecting an interview. It will be preferable to state you have proven experience and leave it at that. Put, ’15 year’s experience’ near the top of your resume or in your cover letter and they stop reading immediately in some cases. You just ruled yourself out. Tell them you embrace learning new ways of doing things, share your blend of experience and passion for the work required.

Many really good people with extensive experience are sitting on the sidelines when they could be significantly impacting positively on organizations’ bottom lines. I know many of them; James, Paul, Ruben, Lorraine…

 

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One thought on “Experience: A Blessing Or A Curse?

  1. It is ironic that you spend years honing your skills and your craft, demonstrating and receiving awards for the achievements – only to be ignored and overlooked once you reach a significant number of years or the gray hair appears. It doesn’t matter if the skills are needed in the organization that you work for. Even when the organization recognizes those skills are needed, they look to those with limited experience to “lead” while asking experienced, tenured, “mature” professionals to step back. Couple that with job search experience described in the article and the current work environment actively underutilized existing, proven talent. The talent shortage is much less than described. There are talented, tenured, skilled, adaptable and proven professionals “sidelined” in many organizations. Some leave only to be sidelined and treated dismissively in the next organizations. Some leave – unable to get an interview even after altering their resumes as you described above. Some get called to the interviewed, yet after walking in the door, only to be told they are “seasoned”, not a fit, and treated as unemployable. An experienced peer with more than 20 years experience that worked with a significant number of employees with less than 5 years experience was told “let the party people party and join the party” as a solution to the lack of professionalism on the job. Another elected to “retire” and created her own business after being criticized being outdated and out of touch by much younger peers in a meeting that she was managing. Surprised, she questioned further to find out why. She was told – in the meeting setting – that she showed up for the business casual meeting in jeans that had a crease down the front. She preferred her jeans be sent to the cleaners and pressed. The other project team members washed their jeans and wore them straight out of the dryer. They pointed out that she could not related their way of working and thinking and more relaxed attitude towards work. Her 25 years of working at Fortune 500 organizations and traveling the world leading successful teams was dismissed on the basis of pressed jeans. She “retired” the next month. A serious loss of talent to the organization and yet the HR department and hiring managers will say “they can’t fill the jobs”.

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