Experience Needed ??

It’s hard to believe that I’m entering the 35th year of my career. I can distinctly remember the challenge of finding my first job. You see, I was trying to land a role in the newly renamed field of “Human Resources” before the internet was anything to be reckoned with. In fact, I went to a library on the campus of Ohio University at the beginning of my senior year and found a book called The Million Dollar Directory. It was a list of companies and their profiles. I picked out a list of 200 brand name firms and typed (yes, typed) a cover letter and resume for each one, and mailed them out.

I had to patiently wait for responses by mail. (yes, mail) Of the 200 letters I sent across the country, I received a handful of rejections and one positive response. I interviewed with this Fortune 500 giant and was fortunate to get hired. Did I mention that the country was in a recession when I was graduating from college? Also, unemployment was at a record high at the time. Sound familiar?

The one difference is that the company I joined was just starting to look for recent college graduates to join the recruiting department. I was the first college graduate they hired. Every other manager in the department had grown up by moving up the career ladder of the organization. I was an “experiment” in response to a directive that said that HR was going to start using the model the revenue-driving departments had used for some time. I was at the right place at the right time. I didn’t have any tangible experience. I just wanted to go into human resources.

I’ll never forget this story because it runs against the grain of ALL companies when it comes to hiring people. We continue to rely on old models and expectations with the myth of experience. If we review a resume that states someone has between “x” and “y” years of experience in a role, we attribute talent and skillset purely based on tenure at a company. That is the first hurdle candidates MUST pass in order to hit the next incremental step of consideration. If people can’t pass this barrier of chronology, then we keep digging until we find someone who matches.

You’d think after 35 years things would evolve. You’d hope that with AI, ATS, chatbots, digital methods, etc. we’d have moved the needle. We haven’t and, honestly, we refuse to because we feel if we eliminate the “experience” parameter then we’ll get a mish-mash of underqualified people. Here’s a more current example . . .

My son, Josh, graduated from Ohio University in 2019 with high honors. He’s a great, talented young man with a degree but he didn’t secure an internship or co-op during his time in college. I understand that is a choice, but again, there’s no measure as to what students did during internships. It’s just key for people to list one on their resume because it reflects . . . experience. This story isn’t true only for my son. It’s how HR and organizations continue to filter out new graduates, those trying to change industries, and people making career changes from one field to another.

When we were on a recent call, he was telling me the steps he was pursuing in his continued job search when he choked up a bit and said in frustration, “How am I supposed to gain experience if no one is willing to give me an opportunity?”

There it is. There’s the crux of this long-held myth. How does one gain experience to match the job requisition when companies aren’t willing to take the chance/risk on investing in someone first? We have all been lulled to sleep and complacency as business professionals because we’ve forgotten that when our careers began someone opened a door for us and invited us in. We lose sight of this because we’re working. I hate to be this candid – but if you have a job, you typically don’t care about those who don’t.

This has to change. There is no reason for people to continue to have to fight through unneeded steps in order to prove that they made it through some imaginary gauntlet and have earned the right to work for a company. It’s archaic and unproven. How can we state we are hiring for “talent” when we’re really looking for people to match buzzwords, overly complicated job descriptions and hidden preferences and biases in our current approach?

It’s time for all of us to open doors. As HR and talent acquisition professionals, we need to redefine the landscape that allows everyone access to jobs and then go through a process of consideration which measures aptitude, character, strengths and potential. We need to come to terms that we can train the details of the jobs they’ll take on. We’re going to anyway.

We should value the skills, knowledge and experience people earn over time. But, instead of playing organizational match game, we should see how we can take those attributes to our organization in order to have their talent move us forward by adding value. It’s time for this current generation of professionals in HR to change the landscape.

I’m not sure how it’s supposed to look. I’m not sure the facets needed to make a design that is inclusive, consistent, and accessible. I just know it can, and must, exist. I plan to start by opening doors for others. As an HR practitioner myself, I can reach out to job seekers and be a person who helps make connections in other organizations if I don’t have roles available myself. We have to think of others outside of ourselves and our companies. Think of how companies would excel if we opened doors to introduce them to talent all over because of the connections we have.

I hope someone opens a door for my son. I know that when it happens, he’ll remember his experience of landing his first job and he’ll open doors for others. You see, experience isn’t needed . . . genuinely helping others land in roles is !!

One thought on “Experience Needed ??”

  1. Hi Steve,
    Enjoyed the article. Thanks.
    Just wanted to draw a parallel between your perspective and a book we published (with Robin Hogarth): The Myth of Experience.
    https://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/emre-soyer/the-myth-of-experience/9781541742055/

    Among other ideas, we show that experience can unexpectedly be a double edged sword when gaining competence and making decisions. Accordingly, both HR professionals and candidates would benefit from a more nuanced perspective/evaluation of experience.

    For a quick look, you can also check out an article we wrote for HBR on the subject.
    https://hbr.org/2015/05/fooled-by-experience

    Just wanted to reach out in case our ideas can add to your (and your readers’) thinking and decisions.
    All the best to you and your son.
    Emre

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