At work, the more “experience” the better. Most job postings even list a certain number of years a person has to have in that field before even applying for the opening.

A small part of this makes sense. There are certain things we can only learn from experience.

But most of it — especially the time requirement — is absolutely ridiculous.

When we’re learning something in school, is it our amount of “experience” with something that dictates how well we understand it? Do we judge a student’s success on how long it takes them to figure out how to do a math problem? Do we laud those who had to spend more time in 3rd grade?

“Timmy is our best student — he’s spent 4 years learning the quadratic equation.”

In a learning environment like school, we would find this mindset absolutely absurd.* Backwards. In education, we associate intelligence with speed. How quickly a person can absorb something is a sign of their natural talent and proclivity for that subject. But at work, we assume the opposite… all the time.

Do people need experience? Sure, but not everybody needs the same amount. People learn at different rates and in different styles. Slapping a number of prerequisite years on a job posting is mostly laziness.

How does your organization measure experience? Could it be time to re-think the definition…?


*Hm… makes me wonder what kind of environment we have at work.


5 Replies to “Ridiculous Work Habits: “Experience””

  1. Megan says:

    This has me thinking hard. How *do* we measure it?

    Is the goal of “experience” to facilitate mastery? Do we really want everyone to master the role they’re in before moving on to the next? Is mastery *the* indicator of success?

    This has got me thinking, for sure.

    • Hey Megan, I love that you’re thinking about this. That’s the exact response I was going for. :-)

      Mastery is highly underrated. Part of the problem is that people are too busy in their “work” to actually study what it would mean to be world-class at it. As a result, the organization loses an opportunity for excellence and the person loses greater satisfaction and meaning in their work. Of course, that person has no time for mentoring any apprentices, either, so everyone loses that, too.

      There’s also something about mastery that can be quantified — we could build “ladders” of development for each category of job which define what good, great, and world-class work looks like, for example. (Buckingham & Clifton talk a bit about this at the end of Now, Discover Your Strengths, and I’m hoping to explore it more in my book.)

      Do you have any other ideas about how we could measure something like experience?

      Or maybe we think about it like this: what qualifies a person to do a job?

  2. Experience; a blessing and a curse….depending…

    Experience working in the same traditional job year upon year; may be hugely hurtful.

    Experience working for many clients, in several countries; learning the patterns and themes and themes through similarities; probably helpful.

    Experience as a master surgeon; likely useful and, hopefully, helpful.

    And, so it goes….I would say the most helpful “experience” has been for me is that I can recognize pitfalls somewhat faster than I did in earlier years when I actually believed in a lot of the things that no longer seem believable. Experience has tempered my once youthful idealism – and that is both better and worse, isn’t it?

    But…new experiences, new stages, new friends….that type of accumulated experience is terrific!

  3. I couldn’t agree more! As a professional recruiter, it pains me when I receive job descriptions from clients outlining a required number of years experience, especially in the tech industry!

    The great thing about my industry is hiring organizations can conduct technical screenings to determine “experience” level. That leaves it up to us to sell our candidates to the client on the basis of skill and technical aptitude.

    Understanding that experience doesn’t equate to proficiency requires a shift in the traditional HR paradigm.

    Strengthfinder is a great book and one of those concepts that help organizations better understand an emerging HR strategy. I worked with a learning and development team that used the concepts in the book to experiment with project delegation…assigning tasks to those with the necessary “strengths” to complete tasks in the most efficient manner. What a novel idea!

  4. Glad to hear that you’re seeing some shifts in this area, Fancy, even if just in your industry! It will be exciting when we start see these questions being asked in other disciplines and industries, too. It’s definitely coming…

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