Five To Seven Years Experience Required

Dear Candidate, I am writing to thank you for expressing interest in our current opening. However, I regret to inform you that we feel that your current experience does not meet our specified criteria. As you recall, we sought five to seven years of previous experience. After careful calculation, we cannot help but note that you actually only have 4 years, 51 weeks, and 4 days total experience. We can only wish you had waited three days before submitting this resume. Although this may seem a minor technicality, it is further compounded by the fact that several candidates have two years of their experience during leap years, and consequently acquired an additional two days experience on the face of their five years, as compared to your only having gained one additional day. Further, as you are from the West Coast, we must consider the additional three hours experience East Coast candidates have acquired over West Coast applicants at the same point in any given workday. I considered your resume for a new position opening up in four days, but that opportunity requires five years experience or less. Regrettably, in four days you will have five years and one day of total experience?? and will obviously be overqualified. We wish you the best possible luck in your search for the appropriate position and cannot help but emphasize the need for you to do your best to match your skills to relevant requirements. We recommend you make better use of a calendar before submitting your background. Best Regards,

Mr. A. Nile Retentive

HR Manager Far-fetched? In the above narrative, possibly. But in the daily application of our fascination with the “previous years experience” concept as a manual or automated screening tool, maybe not. It is a matter of increments between fact and fiction. Or sanity and madness for that matter. Several personal incidents that refute the value of “years experience” come to mind without any effort:

  • I recently saw a job description that listed five relevant skill profiles in a “previous years experience” descending order, starting at eight years and wandering down to two years.
  • On a previous assignment, I noted a skill requirement of “five years previous experience” using a software development tool that had only been released and in general use for two years. Obviously the hiring team was hoping that they could hire a time traveler from the future.
  • A client wanted an aggressive eager entry-level candidate with at least two years experience.
  • A manager wanted a “Senior Engineer” requiring the same skill sets as one of their “Engineers” but requiring less total years experience (reverse time continuum).

In developing position descriptions, skill levels must be established, of course. But there is a good way to do it and an easy way. Unfortunately, HR/staffing is all too often a willing accomplice in allowing the easy way to be taken. Some of the bad reasons for using “years experience” as criteria include:

  • Laziness. The position description used to hire the last person stated five to seven years experience, and nobody seemed to mind. Why fight success? (Ah, but why did that last hire leave?)
  • Xerox Syndrome. The issue never came up, you merely copied the description and moved on. No changes, no hassles, no waiting for the posting.
  • Paranoid Manager. A manager with only eight years experience does not want to be outdone by a hire with more seniority and thus risk their fragile hold on their team. (“No hire should be able to challenge my hold on the throne.”)
  • Age discrimination. Ever see a position description going up to 30 years experience? A college degree prerequisite combined with never requiring more than ten years experience almost guarantees you a candidate pool of candidates 32 years old or younger. (“Too bad you are 50?? uh, I meant overqualified…yeah, yeah, that’s the ticket.”)
  • Lack of knowledge. There are still “hangers on” to the old days of HR/staffing, when there was little embedded knowledge on the part of HR/staffing as to the actual duties of the people they hired. As a consequence, hiring managers felt compelled to “spoon feed” job descriptions to their HR support with “hapless layman” terminology. (“What is this big word again?”)
  • “If you build it, they will come.” There is a false faith on the part of many that by merely shaping a position description they have shaped a reality. (“I want a total skill accumulation of 306 years experience in a candidate by requiring 8 years experience in 38.25 skill profiles. Or 12 years experience in 25.5 skill fields, or some combination. That’s possible, isn’t it?”)
  • “If it don’t work, don’t fix it.” A past practice often achieves immortality due because of our own fears of challenging a time-honored tradition. The fact that it is ineffective as a tool often isn’t important enough to us to risk being labeled a troublemaker or an “HR rebel.”

I realize that to many, the value of “years experience” is that it serves as an acceptable and acknowledged shortcut that facilitates the screening process. But I have to ask, is it possible to achieve professional excellence in any endeavor whose starting point consists of a process that is accepted because it is merely “close enough” or “almost good”? What possible harm can come from using “years experience” to help cut through that ugly inbox (paper or cyber) of resumes? Well, here are some “for instances”:

  • I know a lot of talented candidates with three years experience who could teach others with ten.
  • I know a lot of candidates with ten years experience who can only just now make a cup of coffee without adult supervision.
  • I know candidates with three years experience who want to be a manager today, tomorrow at the latest.
  • I know candidates with ten years experience who love what they do and would not seek to manage if the opportunity were offered with “sugar on top.”
  • I know candidates with a valuable skill profile whose job focus required using that skill component, during a three-year period, 24/7.
  • I know candidates who list the same prerequisite skill on their resume even though they only use the skill “on occasion” and have not at all in the last three years.
  • I know a candidate who in the last three years sought responsibility and involvement and earned the respect of senior workers with twice the experience.
  • I know of a several candidates with seven years on the job who have always managed to avoid the spotlight and remain anonymous, even within their own team.

In each of the above instances, the candidate could have been wrongfully screened in or out of the process using the “years experience” rule of thumb. We are always lamenting the lack of qualified candidates and then come up with poor methodologies to “whittle down the pile.” But if you were looking for gold, how much waste would you accept, in your screening process, to speed up digging through the rough ore? So, can we define a position without using “years experience”? We just have to be willing to try and think outside “the box” we all talk about, but seem all too willing to hide in. So, here is an exercise for those who want to try: Hypothetical Case Study Let us assume you are seeking a candidate to work in the customer service department of a highly automated financial services company supporting primarily layperson customers?? in other words, customers with investments who are not in fact “professional” investors and often lack the vocabulary or sophistication to understand the products and rules under which they operate fully. This is not an entry-level position, but it does not have any supervisory responsibility and the level of decision-making authority is managed by the limitations imposed by your online support systems. The environment ranges from managed workflow to hectic based on the time of year or news from the stock market. The group supports retirement-based products, uses “Greyhair” customer support software (fictitious,) and is a three-shift operation in a cubicle environment. There is a “working supervisor” for every 20 customer service persons who usually has 80% of their time used dealing with higher-level issues “bumped up” by the online system. The manager supports three such supervisors. Initial training is handled by a one-week program managed at the division level, followed by OJT within the group supported by the manager, supervisor and designated mentor. Assignment:

  1. Identify the critical skill components?? objective and subjective?? for the above position.
  2. Under each component, identify those words that you feel would serve as “markers” in a screening process (manual or automated) of a candidate who had those skills.
  3. Develop a list of skill intensity indicators other than “years experience” that would help you develop a reliable screening tool to determine competency levels.
  4. Write a position description that does not use “5-7 years experience” or the buzzwords “junior” or “senior.”
  5. Go to the online resume data base you currently use and “test drive” the new position description against one using the more traditional “two years this” and “four years that” to determine:
    • Quality of matched resumes to intended goal
    • Duplication (How much overlap exists between the two groups?)
    • Which process gave you the candidates you would most likely want to interview

Those who are interested in trying this exercise should feel free to email me the results. In two weeks, the second part of this article will include that data as part of the conclusion. “Years experience” as an effective screening tool goes back to the days when HR/staffing was concerned primarily with planning the holiday party and assigning parking spaces as their primary contribution to the bottom line. It can also be a way to conceal poor recruiting screening practices, age discrimination, or paranoid hiring managers limiting internal competition for their jobs and other bad work habits. It’s an old and familiar way to make a difficult task easy by doing it poorly. Think of it this way: which of the two statements below best reveal YOUR true value?

  • Your professional experiences, acquired knowledge, personal strengths, human interaction, and training
  • Your date of birth

After all, MENSA doesn’t have a “years experience” criteria on its application. Why should yours? Have a great day recruiting!

Ken Gaffey (kengaffey@comcast.net) is currently an employee of CPS Personal Services (www.cps.ca.gov) and has been involved in the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration project since its inception. Prior to this National Security project Ken was an independent human resources and staffing consultant with an extensive career of diversified human resources and staffing experience in the high-tech, financial services, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries. His past clients include Hewlett Packard, First Data Corporation, Fidelity Investments, Fleet Bank, Rational Software, Ericsson, Astra Pharmaceutical, G&D Engineering, and other national and international industry leaders. In addition to contributing articles and book reviews to publications like ERE, Monster.com, AIRS, HR Today, and the International Recruiters Newsletter, Ken is a speaker at national and international conferences, training seminars, and other staffing industry events. Ken is a Boston native and has lived in the greater Boston area most of his life. Ken attended the University of South Carolina and was an officer in the United States Marine Corps.

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