What Does Experience Really Mean?

by Emily Jasper on November 12, 2009

As part of my future move to my new website, I’m visiting some posts from my first blog on fastcompany.com. That was back before I knew most of you and when I was feeling this whole blog thing out. Enjoy!

May 21, 2008- When one has the opportunity to start looking at possible career paths, there are many ways to go. Often “who you know” is a pretty good way to get into a company. Sometimes help from a head hunter or placement firm does the trick. But what about all those young workers beginning to look for a job via Monster or Career Builder? Who may have not found the Career Center at their university helpful because they weren’t an Accounting major? What about young workers who still fit the two-to-three year “entry level” category? There’s a very large wealth of talent coming into the working world. This includes those who have been holding part-time jobs since age 15, and others who come with a number of internships under their belts. There is also the blended applicant, which includes the typical Gen-Y Over-Achiever who did part-time work for the past eight years, led four organizations in high school alone, was a varsity team captain, became a philanthropic coordinator in college, and is still devoted to spending time with outside the office volunteering or working with alumni groups. So when a company says you must have three-to-five years of experience, what does that mean?

Some may say, only internships count. Work and effort from high school could be considered juvenile on a resume. Being a waitress might have made you money, but what can you really take from that to apply in the work place? Including your activities with a fraternity or sorority might isolate you as a risk considering the stereotypes.

Where does that leave the Gen-Yer?

It’s all about the positioning. Showing why an experience is relevant to job requirements can be more impactful than listing experience itself. Instead of providing every detail from the past eight years, a resume should provide a clear picture of the applicant.

So what if you were a waitress? A key skill you may have built would be the ability to multi-task. Coordinating with a hostess, taking orders, managing multiple tables, and collaborating with the chef could be daunting for some. You could also say you work well under pressure. There are those customers who (no matter what) enjoy being difficult. They complain, send food back, change orders, and drive you crazy. But the customer is always right…so what do you do? Act with poise and wish them well at the end of the evening.

What hurts young workers is being told they need to add “what looks good” to resumes, without a clear understanding of what “good” really means. Following Einstein’s lead, Human Resources considers “good” as relative to specific positions. Those who can articulate how experiences are pertinent to a posting will have the advantage.

While finding ways to identify key skills learned from being a team captain or publishing a school newspaper can provide applicants with an advantage, good-old-fashioned internship experience is still important. Working in an office begins to orient young employees with how to gain professional skills not taught in the classroom. They have the opportunity to make some mistakes and learn from them early. Additionally, internship experience can shape individuals into the employees they will become a few years down the road.

Generations in the Work Place is becoming a pretty hot topic in many companies. College graduates may not have the advantage of knowing that hiring managers were told Gen-Yers tend to be non-committal, demanding, or insert other trait here. Does that mean young applicants start at a disadvantage? No.

Gen-Yers are innovative and energetic, While your organization may not be able to make an offer, especially in current economic times, remember to give some feedback. That applicant cannot learn without being told “why,” especially if a blemish from the interview or wording in a resume could be corrected. This can improve attitudes of the workforce overall and those of your future applicants.

Who knows, you may be hiring a waitress who has the potential to open your next field office.

The views expressed in my blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

Photo from clipart.