Are "Years of Experience" Requirements Fair to Younger Workers?

Last Updated Sep 24, 2011 1:26 AM EDT

Dear Evil HR Lady,

I'm about six years into my IT career and like any business person I am always keeping my eye on the market.

I've noticed a trend where employers post minimum experience requirements, which is not unusual. However the requirements are a bit overstated. For example, a former employer has posted a minimum requirement of eight years experience for the position I held and excelled at for several years (with only two years experience when I started). Truth be told, a second year undergrad could do that job without difficulty.

This is just one example and it is not uncommon in my observation.

The practice smacks of discrimination against the young and I can only imagine the frustration my newly graduated peers must be experiencing. Do you have any suggestions on how to get a resume in front of a hiring manager or will the "kids" just need to pray for a lucky break?

Years of experience are usually completely arbitrary. Some people can do a job with one year of experience that would take other people 10 years to learn how to do. Unfortunately, it's difficult to tell from the outside what type of person you are.

I think we all agree that you can't just jump into the role of CEO of a Fortune 100 Company straight out of college. Managing people, projects, learning how to navigate the political parts of companies, learning what problems are likely to appear, and what solutions are actually plausible are also things that you learn in the workforce. Sorry to say, but universities generally stink at teaching skills that help you survive in the workplace. So, even though you think that a "second year undergrad" could do the job, chances are that the actual technical part of the job could be done, but all the little "extras" that go along with corporate life would still have to be learned.

Hiring is a very expensive thing. Terminating someone is also extremely expensive. Therefore, managers do not want to take the risk that they'll spend a fortune hiring and training someone only to find out that they are utterly incapable of doing the whole job (which includes all sorts of things that don't generally end up on a job description), so that they then have to go through the expense of firing the person and then hire someone else. And keep in mind that the word "expense" doesn't necessarily mean an actual dollar amount given to a recruiter. Time and energy and undone work (while the position is vacant) are all expenses of recruiting.

So, when a manager has gobs of time and cash and all that, she's willing to take the risk of hiring someone without enough experience and train him herself. When deadlines are tight, finances are tighter, and stress levels are high, she wants to hire someone that someone else has trained. Therefore, the job posting goes up with "Five years of experience" or my very favorite "One year experience required." The one year experience just means flat out that a new grad could do the job just fine, it's just that the manager doesn't want to do the basic adjusting to the workforce training. This is why when college students ask me what they should major in or whatever I always say, "I don't care what you major in, but you better darn well get internships." Your internships (plural on purpose) can count as that "one year" of experience. (And please don't tell me that only the rich kids can afford internships. If you're not a rich kid you absolutely cannot afford to skip the internships.)

Now, as to your previous employer posting a job you did as now needing 8 years of experience, it's quite possible that the job description has changed since you left. It's also quite likely that they thought you were an exception rather than the rule. And another possibility is that after you left they hired someone with limited experience who was a total failure and they don't want to go down that road again.

The reality is, it isn't an attempt to discriminate against the young, which in most cases is perfectly legal, as you are only in a protected class after you turn 40. It's an attempt to decrease turnover and increase the amount of time needed to get someone up to speed. It's an employer's market, so when they post a job as requiring 8 years of experience, they are pretty confident that they'll find a variety of candidates that meet that requirement and are willing to do the job for that pay. As the job market improves, that will change and companies will be forced to hire less experienced people.

So, what's a young worker to do? Same thing as an old worker: Network. It's more difficult on entry level jobs because you don't have the years of experience and contacts that those of us who've been in the workforce for a while have. This means they need to be extra careful to be on best behavior at all times--even non work situations. Your parents' friends are people you can network with, but they better think highly of you before you try it. Your friends that got jobs can be a networking source. Your contacts from your internships are also sources.

It's hard to get a first job. But the experience requirements aren't a method to discriminate against the young. It's a method to discriminate against the inexperienced.

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Photo by Aditya Rakhman, Flickr cc 2.0

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