Experience Requirements Are Silly

In a short piece from last month, a fellow millennial wrote about the conundrum many of us find ourselves in. It’s a truth you’ll probably hear from the mouths of twenty-somethings across the country:

“I can’t find a job because I don’t have experience, and I don’t have experience because I can’t find a job.”

While I’ve agreed with this sentiment in the past, the first time I heard it expressed so succinctly was in another blog post about a year ago. It struck such a nerve with me that I’ve adopted it as a mantra. It’s become a sort of battle cry for young people who are frustrated with this economy, and perhaps more importantly, frustrated with the hiring process in general.
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Over the past three months I’ve applied to dozens of jobs and internships, all of which are positions in organizations I believe I could happily contribute to. But there are dozens of other positions I haven’t applied to for one specific reason, experience requirements. Now, I understand the gamesmanship that comes with writing qualification requirements, they weed out potential applicants before they even send in applications; it’s a process of self-selection – “I know I don’t have 5 years of experience so why even bother sending an application?” Fair enough. It’s probably quite efficient for employers to do this, but with efficiency, comes missed opportunity.

The problem is that this self selection process is completely broken. Employers are posting experience requirements for positions that most college graduates have the ability to do. Do I really need 5 years (five years!) experience to be a research associate, or a communications associate, or a marketing specialist, or a writer, or a social media manager? As Seth Myers would say – really, I mean, really!?

This is madness, it’s inane, and it’s contributing to this problem of youth unemployment and underemployment. Some organizations have begun to address this problem and have reformed their hiring processes. Gawker values inexperience, other organizations have implemented training programs that are full-time paid internship positions where successful completion of the program seamlessly transitions to permanent employment. They act as a sort of residency program for non-medical professional degree holders. And still others have all but abandoned the traditional hiring processes in favor of social media interactions/applications.

Now, this is not to say that experience requirements are unneeded, for certain positions professional experience does matter. But I’d argue that a large chunk of positions out there can be successfully filled by graduates with limited experience; and that organizations are overvaluing experience as a barometer of future success. What’s more important, experience or organizational fit? Experience or ability? Experience or passion? Experience or creativity? I think it’s clear that many of the most successful modern organizations run on the creativity, initiative, and passion of young people. I just hope that as these companies grow they don’t lose sight of the formula that made them successful.

Despite the experience conundrum, I’m fairly optimistic that a paradigm shift in the hiring process has begun and will continue. As millennials are beginning to flood organizations across the country, attitudes and practices are changing for the better. Millennials who are already in positions of influence have empathy for their peers; and that empathy can go along way in not only improving the jobs prospects of the unemployed and underemployed, but also in improving the prospects of organizations that may be stagnant.

The question employers must ask themselves is whether they are going to be vanguards of the traditional hiring process, or innovators and leaders of the country we want to see.

If you’re an employer what are your thoughts on young prospective employees? If you’re a millennial, are you frustrated by the experience requirements? Type your thoughts in the comment section, and share this post with friends.

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10 thoughts on “Experience Requirements Are Silly

  1. rockermocking says:

    Have you ever applied for a job, even if you don’t have the time requirement? While for public service jobs, those requirements are set in stone, in some cases in the private sector, employers may be willing to bring you in for an interview even if you’re short of the 2/3/5 years of experience, especially if you have extensive knowledge of a certain software the position uses. In my field, non-profit development, a person’s extensive knowledge of Raiser’s Edge software can help one out greatly in the job search, even if the applicant doesn’t have all the time requirement under their belt.

    My thoughts are that if you fit the job bill and can do what the posting states (don’t over-exaggerate your skills, of course), it’s worth applying for.

  2. Lauren says:

    Amen! Requirements are by far the most frustrating part of job hunting. Just the other day I was telling my boyfriend that all of the cool jobs have a minimum 5 years of experience requirement. He told me to apply for the not-so-cool jobs that would eventually get me to that point. Obviously that’s how it should work, but the problem is that there are absolutely no entry-level jobs out there right now to give me that experience. This is why people just entering the job market are floundering; it’s rare to find something with even a 2 year minimum requirement.

    Some jobs are more strict with their minimum experience requirements than others. I’d say if you read the description and meet all of the qualifications except for experience, apply anyway.

  3. Rachennial says:

    The ‘experience’ thing is sort of strange. I can definitely see why some positions would need it, so the employer doesn’t have to do much, or any training. But it seems like something will have to give eventually, and older employers will have to give Millennials a break at some point, or we will never GAIN experience. I’m getting to the point where I’m able to say I have 5+ years experience in graphic design, which is great, but I can’t say that for many other skill areas.
    HAY like the pic! 🙂

    • I agree, I think employers need to have some empathy for young people trying to enter the workforce in this economy. It seems like 5 years of experience is the threshold to a whole new world of opportunity. Thanks for the suggestion to start including images!

  4. David says:

    I’ve been running a blog where millennials share their experiences on beginning a career in this economy, and several of them have expressed frustration that they can’t get a job without experience, but they can’t get experience without a job. (The blog’s web address, if you’d like to check it out, is http://twentiesblog.wordpress.com/)

    Millenials get a bad reputation for being inexperienced and entitled, but having went to Cornell, I could tell you that students there were some of the most dedicated, hard-working, and passionate people I ever met, and it saddens me that many of them might be written off by employers just because they “lack experience.”

  5. As a recent graduate I’ve encountered this problem. The mantra you say you’ve adopted sounds familiar to me as I’ve had friends say the same thing. Sadly, experience is still one of the main requirements in advertisements. It’s annoying because firms should look more to potential and mindset rather than skills already attained. Skills can be learned, character and mindset are almost set in stone.

    I did actually write a bit myself about millenials and youth unemployment. You should check if out if you have some time, I’ll definitely come back here.

    • I’ll check out your blog Niels, thanks for commenting. I somewhat agree that character and mindset are almost set in stone. I think even those can change pretty dramatically, oftentimes it just takes inspiration.

  6. Angela says:

    I do find experience requirements frustrating. Even though I have completed several (unpaid) internships in a field related to my degree I still fall short of the minimum 2 years experience required for most entry level jobs. It increasingly seems to me that when jobs are advertised as ‘entry level’ what the employer really means is that they are looking for someone experienced who is willing to accept entry level wages.

    • I’ve also encountered this problem often. I have three summers of internships under my belt for a total of 9 months of experience, but since it’s not a year it doesn’t meet the posted requirements of most jobs (even entry levels as you noted).

      Thanks for the comment!

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