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Inclusive Employment Blog Series- Part Three: The Experience Contradiction

By Autism, Featured, Workforce Development No Comments

A common employment issue that baffles many Autistic individuals and Neurotypicals alike is what I call the Experience Contradiction. I often see this with companies with unrealistic expectations for entry-level work positions. In other words, the common phrase, “to gain experience, you need experience,” is a puzzling concept because it seems that the only way to garner experience is by being paid or having an official role in an organization. However, there are many ways to gain experience that is not official or paid and still reap the same benefits.

Applicable work experience refers to the skills, ability, and knowledge that closely aligns with the job description (Thottam, 2022). It is important for employers and employees alike to note that experience can be gained by unconventional means such as watching videos, reading books, volunteering, and working at other unrelated jobs. The transferable knowledge you gain from these activities is more valuable than how candidates obtain it. Jobseekers often appear more valuable to employers because they have transferable knowledge and know how to show it. Therefore, gathering knowledge in all the ways you can and learning how to promote your relevant life experiences is critical in a competitive job market.

With this in mind, I would like to point out some of the applicable experiences I have seen and experienced firsthand. I remember being a part of an interview with a college student who did not believe she had relevant experience to apply for a position because her only prior work experience was as a cashier. She did not realize that she had gathered significant transferable knowledge and essential job skills that were still relevant to the position. She didn’t realize that having the same exact job before was not required and that much of her cashier experience would transfer to the new role. Of course, it depends on the position level and how much experience the employer wants, but do not let it deter you if it is within a reasonable range.

Secondly, I recall not feeling confident about having leadership skills that many applications inquire about due to a lack of leadership experience at my previous jobs. However, when an opportunity to start a Professionals in Human Resources Association (PIHRA) chapter at my university arose, I took the initiative to implement the student organization and become its first president. Even though it was a volunteer opportunity, it allowed me to gain important leadership experience. I used my experience to become a Talent Acquisition team lead by acknowledging my previous experience. The key for me was to get creative and seize an opportunity. The leadership experience I sought snowballed from there.

Another aspect of showing your experience is to think outside the box when identifying your relevant job skills. Every job description lists the desired skills needed for a position. Some common skills are problem-solving, critical thinking, decision-making, people management, judgment, and creativity, but you do not necessarily need a job to gain these skills (Thottam, 2022). Once again, notice that you do not need a previous job to begin learning about or implementing these skills because they are the underlying mechanism of performing tasks, not the execution. In other words, you use critical thinking skills to perform tasks, but critical thinking skills alone are not the task. Candidates with direct experience are often favored over those without because they have already shown how they perform previous tasks by utilizing those skills. Therefore, to be competitive with employers that value experience, you must be prepared to announce and explain how your relevant knowledge and skills will help you perform the job’s duties.

It is important not to undermine your non-workplace experience in interviews. Stay optimistic about building your capacities and constantly look for new opportunities. Entry-level positions are designed for this concept yet are often marred by unrealistic experience expectations and poor job analysis. Therefore, focus on learning and finding employers who will cherish your presence and relevant experiences and want to develop them further instead of those only focused on short-term gain. Most importantly, never sell yourself short!

Brandon Orozco is the AFO Workforce Development Project Assistant and holds a BS degree in Psychology with a dual minor in Philosophy and Business Management. Brandon is pursuing an MS in Human Resource Management from Claremont Graduate University and was the founder and President of the Professionals in Human Resources Association (PIHRA) student chapter. Brandon is an Autistic self-advocate and has previous experience being a Talent Acquisition Team Lead for a rising tech startup and enjoys sharing his lived experiences and perspectives. 

Sources

Thottam, I. (2022). Should you still apply for a job if you don’t have enough experience? https://www.monster.com/career-advice/article/should-i-still-apply-for-a-job-if-i-dont-have-years-of-experience

Inclusive Employment Blog Series- Part Two: Unicorn Bias

By Autism, News, Workforce Development No Comments

Something that is often overlooked in the quest to find qualified candidates is the unconscious discrimination that can occur when unchecked. In this way, I propose that overly favoring experience when unnecessary could be viewed as a marker of discrimination. While there may be no legal repercussions for doing this, it is no less damaging to candidates, especially neurodiverse individuals. The reason is that it leads to exclusionary practices that favor the few but ignore the many.

To illustrate, I noticed that while discriminating based on a protected class, such as race or disability, is forbidden; there are other ways to accomplish the same “goal” while not being explicit. For example, a recruiter cannot deny a candidate because of skin color or disability but can reject a candidate who does not have “adequate” experience. This is why job analysis is critical when crafting a job ad because it can deter qualified candidates or eliminate them later in the process. It is important to note that the intention may be sincere, but the execution is the issue and what causes many candidates to be left out. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that experience is necessary for the position and not an afterthought or leftover from another job ad.

Next, I have spoken on some types of hiring bias that occurs in interviewing, but there is another that seems harmless but plays a big part in overlooking qualified candidates. That hiring bias is what I call the Unicorn bias and occurs when a candidate appears to be “perfect” and creates unrealistic expectations. To elaborate, I chose a unicorn because it is a mythical creature that does not exist, but the pursuit becomes the goal. In this way, the unicorn in this context symbolizes a candidate that nearly or very much checks every box that a recruiter is looking for. The issue arises when the pursuit becomes the goal and begins to cloud the recruiter’s judgment of reality at the expense of qualified candidates. No one is perfect, and the reality is that the vast majority of qualified candidates will not appear as unicorns and thus get overlooked.

I personally experienced this bias when I thought I had found a unicorn during an interview. This person matched almost all the boxes a recruiter could dream of and seemed easy to accept in the company. However, this person had lots of experience and should have been interviewing for higher-level positions, but they were under the impression they needed lots of experience to be considered. With this said, after seeing this “unicorn” with my own eyes, it was difficult to interview other candidates who were not as mythical as that. As discussed, it is important to reset after every interview and acknowledge challenges or issues with every candidate, no matter how extraordinary they appear. Another truth is that the likelihood of encountering another unicorn afterward is slim, and pursuing them will cause other candidates to be left out.

This unicorn bias is especially troubling for hiring neurodiverse individuals. After all, they will most likely not appear as unicorns because many of them need access to the kinds of experiences that are expected. Moreover, many neurodiverse individuals have unique needs and challenges that make it difficult for them throughout the recruiting process. However, the workplace comprises a vast and diverse group of people that are not unicorns but are still employed. Plenty of employees in workplaces today do not meet all or most of the checkboxes but are still employed, and some do better than they were at the time of the interview.

The key is to realize that “qualified” candidates cover multiple areas such as skillset, culture fit, previous jobs, volunteering, and attitude. Naturally, which is favored over others depends on the job and company culture. Also, notice that experience is only one facet to consider and that any other aspect will have pros and cons, depending on the job.

Brandon Orozco is the AFO Workforce Development Project Assistant and holds a BS degree in Psychology with a dual minor in Philosophy and Business Management. Brandon is currently pursuing an MS in Human Resource Management from Claremont Graduate University and was the founder and President of the Professionals in Human Resources Association (PIHRA) student chapter. Brandon is an Autistic self-advocate and has previous experience being a Talent Acquisition Team Lead for a rising tech startup and enjoys sharing his lived experiences and perspectives. 

Inclusive Employment Blog Series- Part One: Experience vs. Qualifications Paradox

By Autism, News, Workforce Development No Comments

A major area of contention in the Talent Acquisition field is the role of experience and how valuable it is. Indeed, the very thing that can lead to finding the most qualified candidate in one situation is not always the best option. I call this the Experience vs. Qualification paradox because experience is often overvalued when in reality, it could be unnecessary.

Firstly, there are distinctions between experience and qualifications that should be noted for better clarification. Qualifications pertain to the skills, training, and education learned and help prepare candidates for future roles (LinkedIn editorial team, 2021). Experience pertains to work that has already been completed and showcases the candidate’s skill, knowledge, and abilities (LinkedIn editorial team, 2021). While these two definitions share many similarities, the differences are where the issue becomes noticeable. Notice that experience is the application of past work, while qualifications are the preparation for future work. The issue then seems to be that many roles are misclassified as entry-level when in reality, they are not.

The issue becomes more salient when we examine the pros and cons of qualifications and experiences. The pros of qualifications are that candidates can build their knowledge through education and many companies require or prefer specific degrees (Aspire Personnel, 2022). The con of qualifications is that education is not always valued/necessary and presents many uncertainties about how candidates will perform on the job. The pros of experience are that it shows a practical application of daily work and shows what qualities candidates exhibited in past work (Aspire Personnel, 2022). The con of experience is that previous experience is required and that tenure does not mean much if it does not apply to the job. The idea is to have a mix of the two, but that is only sometimes possible, and one or the other will sometimes be valued over another, depending on the situation/job.

Taken together, the question that needs to be asked is when is experience necessary for a job and when is it not? Unfortunately, many employers seem to favor experience like a crutch that should be mandatory in a job description or, at the very least, considered favorably. What we see are many employers placing experience on a pedestal regardless of the job type or position on an organizational chart. For example, entry-level positions usually will have experience prerequisites built into them that typically are unnecessary for the job. As a result, many qualified candidates are overlooked or removed because they still need to meet the experience requirement. The fallout for the candidates is the sense that they are not able to showcase their knowledge, skills, and abilities because they were not able to show them elsewhere. Likewise, the fallout for organizations is that they miss out on potential great fits because they did not meet the one fit that “mattered.”

The reasoning for favoring experience is sound but is shortsighted and devoid of risk. For example, a common reason for favoring experience is that the candidate has shown how they will react to situations and tasks on the job. In effect, it eliminates the risk of candidates being unable to perform the job, leading to greater productivity and lower turnover. The reason is that there is already evidence that the candidate can do the job and will perform well because they have done it before. However, where does that reasoning apply to an entry-level position where the goal is to get a foothold in an organization and build from there? In the future, the message becomes to get a foothold in another organization or show us what you did for someone else and then come with us.

Indeed, that line of argument is most applicable for more leadership and senior positions in an organizational chart where the consequences of the candidate being unable to do the job are most severe. For instance, an employee in a leadership or senior position needs to have experience because they are most likely overseeing other operations and need to see the big picture and how it relates to everything. However, the entry-level employee is usually placed in the “weeds” or the ground level where they have tasks to complete, and how well they do determines the operation’s overall efficiency.

Therefore, the consequences of “failure” or losing employees get progressively more severe the higher up the chain of an organizational chart. However, there is little justification for experience in entry-level positions other than the momentary loss of money for losing candidates. Admittingly, losing employees is a costly endeavor that should be minimized but is a reality of the workplace no matter what. The truth is there is still uncertainty for candidates with experience, and the same issues can still arise. Because of this, a thorough job analysis should be conducted to ensure what qualifications are helpful or mandatory, and especially check if experience is necessary.

Brandon Orozco is the AFO Workforce Development Project Assistant and holds a BS degree in Psychology with a dual minor in Philosophy and Business Management. Brandon is pursuing an MS in Human Resource Management from Claremont Graduate University and was the founder and President of the Professionals in Human Resources Association (PIHRA) student chapter. Brandon is an Autistic self-advocate and has previous experience being a Talent Acquisition Team Lead for a rising tech startup and enjoys sharing his lived experiences and perspectives. 

 

Sources

Indeed Editorial Team (2021). Experience vs. Qualifications: Differences and Importance. https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/experience-vs-qualifications

Aspire Personnel (2022). Qualifications Vs. Experience: what matters most? https://www.aspirepersonnelltd.co.uk/qualifications-vs-experience-blog/

 

 

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