Why ‘Years Experience’ is mostly bullsh_t.

Let’s qualify that:

Why most people’s ‘years of experience’ is B.S.

Quick…think of some guy in middle management who’s been there for twenty years.  Impressed?  Didn’t think so.  In most cases, working twenty years at a job means that the person learned how not to get fired.  Not spectacular enough to run the place.  Not outright incompetent enough to be canned.  Neither threat nor folly.  Just there.

And yet, that’s usually the first thing folks claim on their biographies, cover letters and resumes.  Years experience is absolutely no indication of excellence.   It just shows you were doing something.  It doesn’t show drive.  It doesn’t show innovation.  It doesn’t show risks taken and lessons learned.  It just shows that you were there.

I had coffee with my mentor last Friday.  He observed,

“I know guys who strut around with their ’20 years selling experience’ who can’t present worth a damn.  Yeah, 20 years at being completely, absolutely ordinary.  20 years of getting by because people look at 20 years and automatically assume the guy is at the top of his game.”

‘Years Experience’ is a wonderful blast of hairspray.  It keeps you looking good until you get caught in a storm (bad economy, younger folks taking your job, downsizing, right-sizing (whatever the hell that even means.)) We have 7% unemployment which means 93% of people who want to work are working.  Taking the 80/20 rule,  it might even be an overestimation that 18.6% of peoples’ years of experience positively correlates to how competent and passionate  they are about their work.

"Only twenty years experience? You noob!"

I personally know 2 mid-twenty year old business people who make more than $250,000 per year as entrepreneurs.    ‘Years formal experience” – under 2.

A young person with an idea and drive is 100 times more valuable than a ’20 year veteran middle manager.  A young person with an idea and drive has more ability to make an instant impact.  A young person with an idea and drive can be harnessed to make huge amounts of dollars for businesses of all sizes.

But a young person with an idea and drive shrivels up and dies the moment he sees  “5 years experience required“.  From here, you separate the bold from the meek.  The bold will learn how to create a compelling enough story so that the employer (and only a good one) will say, ‘Damn, I have to get this guy before Panasonic gets him…’ :)   The meek will whine about the infinite loop that is “They want experience but they won’t give me experience.”  (Stuff it…no one owes you anything…)  (editor’s note:  The really bold say, ‘Screw this, I’m starting my own company.’)

When does experience matter?  When what you personally do can kill someone or a business if you don’t have enough of it.  I failed miserably the first time I became a business owner.  I did not have the experience.

Experience does not matter for the vast majority of office jobs.  Information is so democratized now that you can learn almost anything you want for free.  All knowledge is public domain.  With enough homework and self-study, a new grad can make herself as relevant as somebody who’s been clocking in from 9 -5 for 10 years, especially in an office job.  Here’s a question for those 20-year back-office veterans who are sneering at me:  Did it take you 20 years before you became awesome at your job?  Did it even take you 5?  Either you were a ridiculously slow learner or you figured things out after a couple of weeks, maybe months.   Now imagine the brain of a 20 year old, fresh from school and primed for learning….  The experience required argument for most office jobs is BS.   Your past experience is only valuable if you purposefully cultivate it and refine to create new opportunities.  Claiming years experience for sake of experience is meaningless.  We’re all experienced runners but we’re not all running marathons.  Also Alexander the Great conquered the known world in his twenties.

The workforce is getting younger.  The successes are coming earlier.  The definitions of success are changing from corporate ladder climbing to creating career meaning .  Don’t sneer at the bright and passionate twenty-year old with no ‘job’ experience.  He has more relevant experience in this economy than a career office worker will ever have.  If you continue to underestimate what new grads can do, you’ll be putting your ’20 years experience’ to work for them…in about 2 years when the economy reboots once again.

The same mentor said “You get better by getting better.  You get better by finding something to get better at.  You gotta keep learning and keep seeing yourself as not knowing anything.”  This is similar to the Taoist saying “Trying to teach someone who knows it all is like trying to add water to a full cup.”  

Just because it took you 20 years to fill your cup, it doesn’t mean it’s filled with right stuff.

Go learn something new today.

M