Recently I was walking past a small café. Outside was a sign – “Full Time Position Available. Experienced Only Need Apply” I smiled whirly as in some ways it reminded me of the stories that you hear about rooms for rent in properties back in the 1960s (or even later) with signs in the windows reading – “No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs”
On the face of things, there is no correlation between telling people not to apply for a job if they don’t have experience and telling people that they can’t rent a property because of the colour of their skin or where they originate from. However, if you stop and think about it, in both circumstances people are being excluded, without being given a chance. No one is or was taking the time to find out who they are and what they do have offer.
The experience case is probably easier to justify – people say they need someone who can come onto the job and get on with what needs to be done. The requirement for experience often comes with assumptions. About eight years ago I came across an organisation that was looking for HR experience in a specialised area. The organisation specified the requirement for five years experience. I had about three years extensive experience in the relevant area so, I decided to contact the organisation outlining the projects I’d work on over a three-year period and the impact of my achievements. They decided not to see me. About three years later, they were once more looking for help. In the interim period I had done a few small pieces of work in the specialist area, but not much. I contacted them once more, specifying my experience over five years. They met with me and they absolutely loved me and my work. The funny thing is that what really stood out for them from the conversation was the experience they I had gained from my earlier years. The experience that I had when I first contacted them. Ultimately, what was more pertinent, the length of my experience or the quality of my experience?
You may go on to say, that a place like the Café that I mentioned needs to employ someone with experience – they don’t have time to teach people from scratch, you might think! However, if you think about it, who would the Café or for that matter anyone else be best of with – a person with a fair amount of experience who is used to doing things in certain ways which may not actually be appropriate to the culture or general way of working of the new environment, who thinks they know it all or someone who is perhaps a quick and keen learner with no preconceived ideas.
My driving instructor explained it best. She said the easiest person to teach to drive is a person who has never been behind a steering wheel. It’s much harder, she said to teach someone who has got behind the wheel and picked up a lot of bad habits.
I believe there are other areas in which we consciously or sub-consciously exclude people without giving them a chance because they don’t have the experience or capabilities that we think we need. For instance with Christmas coming up I’ve just received a little card through my front door from Royal Mail. “Santa isn’t the only one who needs help this Christmas” because of the increased volumes of mail over Christmas they are looking to recruit people from the local community to help deliver their services.
They specify that it “is a fast paced environment where you will need to be flexible and adaptable, changing from one role to another to move the mail quickly along the processing chain” Imaging the environment I could immediately understand why they had specified the requirement like that. However, I couldn’t help but think that if I was someone with a mobility problem of some kind that I would immediately think that they did not want someone such as me. The truth, however, is that Royal Mail could cope with a few such people that would be perfectly good for the job if they were allowed to work in specific areas without having to move from one role to another. In fact they might actually benefit from some people focused on specific roles whilst others move around as required.
It’s easy to exclude people that could add a lot of value without realising it or without meaning to simply by taking the obvious, routine approach without thinking of the implications.
On the other hand, if we take a little bit of extra time to think of how our messages come across, who they may exclude and then think a bit outside of the box, we may be surprised by the gems that come knocking at our doors.
Susan Popoola runs Conning Towers Ltd, an HR organisation focused on Talent Management and HR Transformation. She is also the published author of Touching The Heart of Milton Keynes: A Social Perspective and Consequences: Diverse to Mosaic Britain.