Years Of Experience – A Double Edged Sword

Sep 17 2012 in Featured, Job Search Strategy, reCareered Blog by Phil Rosenberg

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A common way job seekers try to brand themselves is by listing years of experience prominently near the top of their resume.

Many of you consider years of experience as so important that you make years of experience one of the key features of your personal brand (Ex: Sales Executive with 20 years of experience).

Years of experience used to always be a good thing, and more years of experience was nearly always better.

Today, years of experience represent a double edged sword – there are some situations where years of experience can help you and others that hurt your job search.

You’re probably wondering now … how can experience be a bad thing?

It’s not that experience is bad … but in some situations, it’s not all that valuable. In other situations, experience can be a key qualification.

The central problem 40+ job seekers have, is that the job seeker may over-value experience – but in many cases, employers don’t value experience anywhere near as much as the job seeker. This can lead many employers to view candidates with much experienced as being overpriced.

It can be very helpful for job seekers of all experience levels to gain an idea of how experience is valued by employers in their industry or for their job function. By gaining this understanding, candidates can learn if emphasizing experience level is a good thing, or if that emphasis might get them eliminated quickly from opportunities.

When years of experience helps:

  1. Early-Mid: If you’re early – mid career staff, years of experience can help an employer guess the level of complexity you can handle.
  2. Technical staff: It’s typical that the toughest problems are given to the best and most experienced scientists, programmers and staff.
  3. Factory and manual labor positions: Non-management factory positions typically require immediate experience-based judgment in working with specific processes and equipment.
  4. Intuitive positions: Positions that require frequent and quick intuitive decisions are more likely to value years of experience.
  5. Just a guess: Of course years of experience are just a proxy. There are some brilliant rookies who can figure out anything thrown at them, just like there are some 10+ year candidates who are dumb as a box of rocks.

When years of experience hurts your job search:

Not that long ago, years of experience a was a valued trait for the following types of positions, because employers valued your memory of experiences. It was valuable to have employees who remembered a great number of past problems and how those problems were overcome. That was until a collective memory was developed that cataloged billions of times the experiences that even the most experienced person could have individually.

Google has made experience obsolete for many positions. Employers see that it’s far less expensive to pay 20 year olds half as much, who don’t need to have much experience, as long as they can look up a variety of potential answers and best practices on Google.

  1. Management and executive: Age and experience were critical for managers and executives. But in many industries today, the value of experience has dropped. As managerial decisions are analyzed more extensively prior to choosing a course of action, managers with less experience rely on researching Google. In this way, younger managers depend on the experience of many experts, rather than just depending on their own singular experience.
  2. Not only is singular experience less critical, a manager who instead researches answers from many experts and chooses the best, may be viewed as making better decisions than more experienced competition. In addition, less experience usually translates into lower salary expectations.

  3. Fast changing industries/companies: In fast changing industries, experience isn’t as valuable, because the problems keep changing. Consider software and social media companies – Some of the fastest growing companies in these industries have CEOs or top executives in their 20’s. While some of the more established companies hire older managers and executives, many newer companies see their business environment changing so quickly, that experience in solving problems from a different technological era isn’t valued so much.
  4. Job functions with fast changing technology: Jobs that change technologies quickly, have completely different problems every time they change platforms. If the new technology is extremely expensive or is anticipated to bring big savings to the employer, implementation speed is often essential. You’ll see evidence of this with employers that layoff current IT staff, replacing with consultants who have already worked with the new platform. This type of company often doesn’t put a high value on experience either.
  5. Non-specialized jobs: For general types of jobs such as admin assistants, accountants, accounting clerks, human resources and managers for these functions, many years of experience often don’t carry a high value. Being more general in nature, these positions encounter similar problems that have already been solved by many people. Since answers to these problems can usually be Googled, many employers don’t view a lot of experience in these areas as having much value.
  6. “Cookie-Cutter” jobs: “Cookie-Cutter” jobs, where large teams are made up of essentially the same position, often don’t place much value on experience – positions like customer service, support staff, and their managers. Since the answers to customer service and support problems are typically scripted, experience often isn’t valued as much as other positions. When employers offshore these types of jobs, it’s a pretty clear indication that many employers won’t pay a premium for experience.

When you’re wondering why it’s so hard for you to find a new job, if you’re over 40, consider this. If a 20 year old, armed with Google, can do much of the job as a 20 year veteran, why would an employer choose experience over cost?

For many positions, this is what’s at the root of ageism and why it’s so tough, all of a sudden for more senior candidates to find a new job.

Why are we noticing this now? It really comes down to three things that happened at about the same time.

  1. Maturation of Google’s search engine
  2. Reliance of business professionals on Google as a collective memory bank
  3. Shortage of jobs

Maturation of Google and business reliance could have happened without causing much of a dent in the 40+ job market.

Throw in the worst job shortage we’ve seen in our lifetimes and it starts to explain why employers have turned their backs on experienced workers.

This article doesn’t examine if this employer behavior is smart, short-sighted, or even if it’s fair. This article is meant to explain typical employer behavior to candidates, so they can improve their chances through better understanding.

So now that you understand why all of your great experience may not be as valuable in the marketplace as you once thought, what are you going to do about it? How will you change your communications (including your resume) to hiring managers, to reflect that your experience may not be the most valuable thing you offer?


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