Careers: An Answer to the Experience Problem

This blog is primarily about my path to becoming a paramedic.  I take as an assumption that I will at some point enter school, work to receive my credentials, and eventually find work as a medic.  That is the single focus of my career planning at present.

However, I would be negligent if I did not keep an open mind towards other paths and alternate routes.  There are a number of ways a plan can go wrong, and if I place all of my eggs into one basket, rest all of my progress on a few key milestones, there is a good chance I will be frustrated by setbacks, barriers and challenges.  Therefore, on the advice of the paramedic program’s coordinator, I am keeping an eye out to other opportunities that I can invest time and energy into that will pay off down the line.

This passed week, I became one of the latest faculty at my College and will be teaching a philosophy course in the Fall.  Depending on how you stand, that might be the furthest thing from my plan as you can get.  Instead of becoming the student, I just took a part time job as a teacher.  I am excited and incredibly nervous about delivering a course to people barely out of my peer group range, but I think this is a positive experience and will pay off in the future.

This all serves as a preamble to a realization I had this morning on the question of experience in young people.  Job seekers everywhere I plagued with a common problem: how am I expected to have experience for jobs that all seem to require experience to get in?  This problem is the bane of the young person’s job hunt because it is often the biggest weakness in their candidacy when they apply for work.  It is the first thing that selects them out of the pool, and no matter how charming they are in person, a lack of experience is the blemish on an otherwise beautiful package.

It’s understandable why experience is so important to employers.  The are spending huge amounts of money to try and hire people, so without knowing anything about a candidate’s work habits and results, the employer needs some signal that they are not wasting their money to hire someone that will be released after a few months.

How does a young person resolve this issue?  The short answer is you need to learn how to tell a story about yourself.  You need to learn how to stitch together your work history into a story that demonstrates you are a good bet for an employer to take.  This obviously assumes you have experience to draw upon.  If you don’t have that, you need to get some.  I’m sorry, but it’s the only way to progress forward.

Would you walk into a store and buy the first expensive item you’re looking for based solely on how it looked?  Imagine shopping for a high-end purchase like a car or a computer, and you bought it purely on looks.  Generally speaking, you probably will not.  You’ll take the time to study the specifications, the deals, consumer reports, tests, etc.  Employers do the same thing; they look for evidence that you aren’t a lemon.

I’ve now been hired for two jobs at the College having none of the classical markers of experience that were advertised for: I did not have any administrative assistant experience for my current job, and I have almost no formal teaching experience.  How did I pull this off?

I understood what the job required and demonstrated how I already had what the employers was looking for.  In the teaching case, it went like this:

Interviewer: I see you have never taught before at a college.  Do you have any experience?

Me: I know I don’t have the teaching experience you might be looking for, as you saw on my academic resume.  If you are asking if I have experience teaching a 7-1-7 teaching block (7 weeks of lectures, 1 reading week, 7 weeks of lectures, or a 14-week course), then no, I have never done that.  However, I have done all of the individual parts; I have:

  • designed workshop plans and delivered the content;
  • assessed students based on those workshops;
  • written speeches and delivered public talks;
  • designed and delivered a guest lecture in grad school; and
  • acted as a teaching assistant and grader for 5-7 university courses.

I was able to demonstrate that I had experience, even if I’ve never taught a college class before.  This does not guarantee that I will be a good teacher, but it assures the interviewer that I am not unaware of the level of work and care that is needed to do the job.

This is one solution to the problem of job experience.  You need two things to sidestep the problem.  First, you need to have some sort of past experience that you can draw upon from a related field.  You need to demonstrate that you know something, or that you can easily figure the problems out and solve them on your own.  Second, you need to learn how to tell your story.  Lacking experience and having gaps in your employment record do not have to signal the death knell on your advancement if you know how to reframe the problem and still give an answer that shows an appreciation for the question being asked of you: If I were to hire you, how could you make my problems go away?  Really, that’s what an employer is looking for.  Someone they can pay to solve a problem or puzzle for them.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

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