Monday, 28 March 2016

Experience isn't what happens to you…

One of the mantras I trot out with alarming regularity is: "Experience isn't what happens to you, it's what you do with it." Experience is one of those nebulous things that everybody sort-of understands but can’t quite nail down consistently. It’s what makes you reach for a pencil instead of a tortoise when you want to write a shopping list or makes you remember to put a rubber glove on before poking round in the back of “that” drawer in the kitchen.

Experience is confused with occurrence. It’s also often confused with wisdom. Experience is the “understanding-level” derivative of occurrence the same way that wisdom is the “understanding-level” derivative of data:









Too often experience is code for “time served,” as in the common person specification: “Must have x years’ experience.”  This is a lazy way of saying: “We want this person to have some idea of what they’re doing from day one.” It’s also wrong-headed: while it’s true that it’s easy enough to assess whether or not somebody’s done that amount of time doing something it isn’t necessarily true that they’ve done it the same way or with the same tools. This lack of applicable context bites even deeper when you think about what those years of “experience” might really be. Some people have 20 years’ worth of repetition of the same working week.

If you ever see "experience" in a person specification don’t be put off if you want the job: think about what might be required that would need “x years’ experience” to do. You might already have done it!


  1. In the old days, when I was still working and interviewing staff, an HR colleague suggested that for more senior jobs I should ask "...and what did you learn from that". To demonstrate some reflective thinking and learning from what happened.

    I liked the results, and started to use it for all levels of staff. What I found, unsurprisingly, was that the ability to show that that the individual had learned something didn't depend on the level of the job at all. Some people seemed surprised by the question, but it always weeded out those you wanted from those you didn't.