Help wanted. Experience required


“So let me get this straight. To get this job, I need to already have successful experience in what the job requires. But if no one will hire me, how will I be able to get the experience I need to be qualified for the job?”

Has someone said this to you in an interview? Have you ever said this during an interview? It certainly is a troublesome, circular problem that is difficult to solve.

Here are some tips for managers and applicants that find themselves in this apparent no win situation:


You are given a set of goals and approval to hire a team of people with which to accomplish those goals. Your first instinct is to fill your team with only proven performers; people who have successful experience in the exact roles you need to fill. I call this method of evaluating applicants, “Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.”

Managers who use this method pass up on new and uniquely talented applicants because they are only looking for people with the exact same experience, in the exact same role, in the exact same industry. This leads to repeating the exact same solutions in an ever changing world – not exactly a formula for long term success.

Managers who want long term success should instead look to hire people with a history of successful experience in diverse areas. These types of employees have demonstrated a history of hard work and adaptability that will allow them, and the team, to remain successful over the long haul.

When talking about computer hardware and software design Steve Jobs said, “The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”


You are new to the job search having just graduated from college. Or maybe you landed your first job and are looking for ways to get that promotion. I am probably not the first one to tell you that experience does matter. Your experience may be limited, but rest assured, you do have experience; and you can get more.

First about your experience. In coaching young job and promotion seekers about their resumes and interviewing I find a common misperception: Experience that isn’t directly related to the type of job being sought should not be included – that is just wrong. Every new role you are seeking will have some element of responsibility that you have not done before. Certainly you should point out where your experience does match the requirements. But even more important is to highlight your diverse experience in adapting to new environments and taking on new challenges. Show that you are someone who can learn and grow beyond your current experience.

So you come to the interview with only the experience you have. How can you get more?

First the obvious, do more yourself. As Harold Geneen said, “In the business world, everyone is paid in two coins: cash and experience. Take the experience first; the cash will come later.” Take the lateral job move, volunteer for new assignments. Do the work now and when the opportunities come you will be ready.

Second, surround yourself with people who have been where you want to go and ask questions. As Voltaire said, “Is there anyone so wise as to learn by the experience of others?” You don’t have to make all the mistakes yourself on the way to experience. Fast track to successful experience by having mentors.

Remember whether you are the manager interviewing applicants for an open position, or the applicant yourself; while some level of experience is important, diverse experience is essential.