On work experience: Addressing faulty recruitment assumptions and practices
It is no news that many recruitment adverts are not only ridiculous but unrealistic. In a country like Nigeria (with a faulty educational system that prolongs the time people spend in universities, polytechnics and colleges of education) it is unrealistic to expect profound work experience from new (or relatively new) graduates. For instance, it is ludicrous to require six (6) years work experience from applicants (in the Nigerian system) who should not be older than 25 years of age. Two questions: how was the years of work experience arrived at? Who says a 25-year old applicant is the best fit for the job opening?
Surprisingly (and sadly), most times, the years of experience pinned on job adverts are pulled from the air which renders the exercise subjective. Such practices do not take into consideration individual differences hence it will edge out competent individuals with less work experience. I am of the opinion that a very simple way to address this challenge is to do a mini survey by asking a few job incumbents or past job holders to know how much time it took them to ascend the vacant job position (in their respective organizations) then compute the average of the number of years given. When this is done, state in the job advert that it is the minimum years of work experience required. I must quickly add that there will be exceptions – some individuals are exceptionally good yet might not fit the profile of the ideal applicant hence there is need to occasionally look beyond the specific years of work experience required. As regards setting age limits, I think it is an assumption (and a faulty one) that individuals within certain age brackets would perform better than others. If this should be the case then it should be premised on thorough research nonetheless I think it will be very discriminatory. Research data could inform the need for improvement of the law but it is not greater than the law which abhors discrimination.
I would be remiss if I fail to stress that having experience on a given job role or different job roles is a beautiful thing. It gives employers the confidence that such individuals will hit the ground running and possibly make significant impact within a short period of time when employed. While this assumption seems reassuring, it is important to also keep in mind that this assumption might be faulty. Many people have lengthy work experiences under their belts not as a result of competence rather due to a host of factors not tied to performance hence it is fitting to thoroughly evaluate experiences to gauge depth, quality and relevance.
Length of experience is easy to come by being on a job for a period of time. It is paramount to say that length does not imply depth, quality and relevance. What are the remarkable turning points in the work experience under review? Beyond discharging explicit duties (as stated in the job description) and all other duties assigned, what significant contributions were made? What projects were seen (from conception) to completion? Were duties carried out proactively or reactively? Did work practices measure up to standards in the profession? Are knowledge and skills acquired over the years relevant within the new operational space? There are a litany of questions to ask to help ascertain the richness of the work experience being considered.
The essence of thoroughly evaluating years of work experience of job applicants is to determine the best fit for the vacant position(s). This is because work experience could be lengthy but shallow; it could be either of high or low quality; it could be relevant or irrelevant given the dizzying pace at which the world of work is evolving.
As a trained industrial-organizational psychologist, I would place open-mindedness, ability to learn fast and a good work ethic above years of work experience (on a scale) when making selection decisions. I would do so for the following reasons: First, you might have garnered your lengthy work experience not as a function of a solid skill set and excellent work ethic rather as a function of I ma mmadu (an Igbo term that speaks to one’s relationships with influential individuals or simply put, connections). As earlier stated, many have years of experience under their belt not as a function of competence. Second, you may have garnered a decade or more of work experience doing the wrong things (i.e. work practices that fall short of best practices). It is important to stress again that work experience could be of low or high quality. Finally, if you have worked in just one firm, your experience may be admirable in length but found wanting in depth and breadth. Regardless of operational convergence owing to global best practices, organizations differ along service/product, cultural lines et cetera hence your experience might be narrow as regards industrial operational variations.
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