I can’t stand the word ‘experience’. I hate how much attention it’s given and how valued it seems to be amongst recruiters. It’s a word overused by industrialists, old skool managers and bog standard HR departments that don’t want to recruit anyone they haven’t recruited before. They want another compliant cog in the engine. Another well oiled link in the chain. Those that ask for ‘experience’ aren’t asking for free thinkers, new ideas and creativity. They don’t want to be challenged, to take a chance or introduce change. They want a guarantee, a safe bet and to be obeyed. By judging experience in terms of years, we’re placing far too much importance on people’s past and are setting up to overlook potential.
‘Must have two years experience’
This drives me mad. Why any number of years experience is ever explicitly stated on any job description or requested from any potential applicant is beyond me. This implies that how long you’ve been in a certain role or the length of time you’ve been with a certain company is more important than the work you’ve done or the projects you’ve completed. This whole attitude can only lead to compliance, complacency and a national culture of playing it safe. It leads to thoughts like ‘if I can just stick it out for a few month’ or ‘providing I just knuckle down over the next quarter’ and has people pissing their life away for the sake of climbing an increasingly shaky ladder.
IBM, a placement year and a false sense of security
When I was in Uni, we had three lads come in and give us a talk on their placement year at IBM. It was pretty much a sales pitch on the Uni’s behalf, but it sounded impressive as they told us all about how IBM are changing the world with their ‘smart cities’ and ‘big data’. They told us how they were loving their placements and have shit loads of dissertation ideas; buzzing about how they’re probably going to graduate with Firsts and be snapped up by IBM on their way to conquering the world of business and becoming Richard Branson’s next best mates.
I kind of wanted them to be telling the truth, but the cynic inside me just couldn’t believe they had it so cushty. So at the end of the lecture, half enthused and half having none of it, I asked, “What course are you all doing?”
There was a mixture of Marketing and Business Management. Sounds good enough to me. I then asked the marketer “So what do you actually do then, on a day to day basis?” His answer was along the lines of “Errr, well, I help customers with problems and try to recommend a solution and stuff.”
After some gentle persuasion, we established that he was a Customer Service Rep that answered phones and input data all day. I responded with a long and drawn out “Soooo… What’s that got to do with marketing?” followed by “Do you actually do anything marketing-related and, if not, why are you taking a year out to do this?”
His reply silenced me:
“Erm… Well… It gives me a foot in the door and that, so that when I leave Uni, if there’s a job goin’ at IBM, I’ll be looked at favourably and have more chance of getting the job.”
That whole sentence is worth reading again. IF there’s a job goin’, I’ll be LOOKED AT favourably. Unbelievable. I hope that, as those words left his mouth, he started thinking of how he’d start his resignation letter. ‘Dear Daft Cunts’, I’d wager.
Needless to say, I didn’t bother with a placement year.
But I’ve got a year’s experience
That lad thought that having a year’s experience, at IBM no less, on his CV was enough. He thought that experience for experiences sake was the way forward. That might have been the case yesterday, but it’s certainly not the case today.
Past experience and future hesitations
Measuring experience in terms of years instead of actions and accomplishments is the problem. Looking at how long you’ve stuck at something only tells us how obedient, complacent and afraid of change you are. It tells us that you can look back over past solutions, but might well shy away from, or be reluctant to search for, new and improved ones. There’s always a better way of doing things and looking back-over keeps us focused on how things have always been instead of opening our eyes to innovation. Years and years of experience also yields a mind focused on getting its head down, keeping quiet and concerned with job security, climbing a corporate ladder and pleasing the boss. All of this means that taking risks and challenging the status quo become difficult for someone paranoid with the fear of failure, damaging a reputation or losing a job.
Instead, we should really be looking at how much ruckus and trouble you caused, how you changed something, innovated or made an impact. What’s important is getting the right experiences and developing the right skills, not sticking at something for the sake of a tidy CV or stepping up another rung. That was the score in 1999.
It’s your life, not their job
So if your a student or entrepreneur looking for work or thinking you need ‘experience’ to progress, don’t just do something for the sake of it. Don’t piss away a year at IBM. Do something hands on that’ll develop the skills that you need to flourish in life, not something that’ll stick a big brand and a few years ‘experience’ on your CV. What you do is more important than how long you’ve done it for or where you did it. Don’t waste your life doing things that you don’t enjoy and that won’t add much value to you as a person or to your career or business. Then next time a job description says ‘minimum 4 years experience’, apply for the fucker anyway because you’ve probably accomplished more in your first two years of relevant, hands on excitement than everyone else applying has accomplished in their entire career of people pleasing, procrastination, compliance and time wasting.