Six years of experience is arbitrary and you know it

Of all of the frustrating practices on job ads, what gets me the most are the arbitrary cut-off points, timelines, and number of years of experience required for certain jobs–especially when the jobs aren’t particularly technical.

Earlier this year, I worked as a communications specialist where I didn’t have any expertise in the specific area–a political campaign–I have a few observations about why employers should reconsider.

1. Many people overestimate how unique the problems in their departments are. Essentially, a political campaign, online fundraising, and plain-ol’ marketing all want to motivate others for a specific call-to-action.

2. People learn at different speeds. If Mercy Corps, for example, only wants to look at the resumés of those who’ve been working in online fundraising for four years, they’re leaving out people who can, and have, picked up the essentials in a few months. Do you really want to weed out the people who learn faster?

3. A post by 37signals pointed out a study stating that, for programmers, “Once they had six months under their belt, the platform knowledge was no longer the bottleneck in their abilities.” Translation: once you have the fundamentals under your belt, the extra “years” don’t usually count for anything, since they’re just mindless reps. (Some good fodder here.)

4. The more time you spend completely immersed in one domain, the less likely you are to come up with any true innovations. Dean Keith Simonton wrote a wonderful paper in 2003, Scientific Creativity as Constrained Stochastic Behavior. He found that the more diverse a scientist’s interests, the more likely they’re able to make previously unseen connections between disciplines; it was the best indicator for the number of positive contributions of a scientist.

5. If you spend all of your time in one domain, you may not realize that you’re on the Titanic. I was amazed at how uncreative certain aspects of the campaign were until I realized where they were getting their information from. The New Organizing Institute’s studies on email advocacy programs, available here, goes against more modern studies about email usability: eye-tracking studies that tell us “shorter is sweeter.”

6. Say you’ve spent nine years honing your skills at making pizza. Quick: imagine yourself as a new customer who’s never heard of pizza before… you can’t, right? Losing the ability to get an unbiased, unfettered point of view–which you lose steadily, as you spend more and more time around something–is a lost opportunity to convert customers or get people to engage in your call-to-action. In the political campaign, the entire thing looked like a political campaign designed to get the attention of people who were already highly politically-motivated and involved. They couldn’t even envision what it would look like to recruit new people, and as a result, didn’t alert anyone new to the cause.

A little new blood doesn’t seem so bad anymore, does it?

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