Getting a Job: How Employers Overthink the Experience Thing


As an hourly consultant, I am almost always looking for my next gig.  Most of my projects last two months on average, so I get lots of practice interviewing for new ones.  One of the biggest frustrations I face is how employers overthink the experience angle.  They often demand very specific experience when a more general experience is sufficient.  As a result, I don’t get the job and they don’t get the job done.

Let me give you a simple but fictitious example.  Suppose the interviewer needed experience on a laptop computer. 

Employer:  “We need experience using a laptop computer.” 

You:  “I have all kinds of experience on laptop computers!”

Employer:  “We have Dell laptop computers.  Do you have experience on Dell laptop computers?”

You:  “Yes, I used a Dell laptop at XYZ corporation.”

Employer:  “Was it an Inspiron?”

You:  “Yes, it sure was!”

Employer:  “Was it a blue Dell Inspiron computer?”

You:  “Uh, no it was a red one.”

Employer:  “Well, we need someone with blue Dell Inspiron laptop experience.”

By now you are ready to scream:  “YOU IDIOT!  If I can use a red Dell Inspiron laptop computer, I can use a BLUE one too!  The difference is IRRELEVANT!”

Of course, this is a simplified version of what occurs thousands of times in business offices daily.  In real life, the employer may ask you if you have experience in Oracle software, but you have experience only in SAP or Peoplesoft.  The fact that the two are similar and designed to do the same thing doesn’t matter.  Why, unless you have ten years of experience in Oracle (thinks the employer), it might take you a couple of weeks learning Oracle’s menus, modules and commands!  

In truth, if you are an accountant with experience in integrated ERP software programs that include sales, receivables, purchasing, fixed assets, payables, disbursements, payroll and general ledger, going from one ERP to another is not that big of a deal.  By being overly specific in the experience an employer wants, they deny jobs to those who could readily perform them.

A friend of mine, Doug, who is a highly successful financial executive in Silicon Valley, once expressed his frustration with this attitude by remarking:  “If a duck can swim across one pond he can swim across another!”

Doug’s comment inspired me to draw a cartoon about a duck in Silicon Valley seeking employment as a pond swimmer.  See the cartoon above.  Feel free to download it and email it to every search agent or would-be employer who turns you down for lack of ridiculously specific experience.


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