39

Must have X years experience

almost 4 years ago from , Developer

Despite being employed I often find myself perusing what is out there. I’m likely not alone in that regard. Lately, though, I have become increasingly disheartened by stories I read online chronicling the interview processes at some well–known companies as well as the expectations set forth in candidate requirements. The requirement I tend to find most worrisome is “Must have X years of experience”. When, and why, did this become the norm? It has created a catch-22 whereby you do not qualify for the job because you do not have the experience, but how are you supposed to get the experience if you cannot get hired for the job?

When I was first trying to get into this industry I asked a local company about an apprenticeship and the owner turned me down because he said he did not have time for his employees to spend training me, they needed to be working on client projects (stuff that pays). In fact, in approximately 9 years in this industry I have never had a work experience in which I was trained or educated by a more advanced colleague, I was typically thrown to the wolves and had to figure it out. This is not meant to be a woe is me tale, I simply did not know any better at the time, and it is something that I have come to regret.

I realize, of course, that some jobs have stricter requirements of experience than others. It is, however, an interesting dilemma that seems to be fairly consistent in our industry. Is it the norm to see investing in apprentices as a waste of time and resources? It is not uncommon to see complaints regarding the shortage of talent (re: experience) on the market but it seems there is a way to address that: train people. Perhaps instead of looking for people who have X years of experience we should instead look for people who have a demonstrable desire to learn, a dedication to their craft, and a willingness to work hard toward becoming a more well-rounded professional.

As a whole we need to remember that we did not all start out knowing how to design. We did not all start out knowing how to code. We had to learn. Sharing that wealth of knowledge can do only good, it certainly cannot hurt.

60 comments

  • Ken Em, almost 4 years ago

    That, and keep in mind us old timers do actually know some stuff, and we are willing to learn more stuff. Please don't exclude us.

    21 points
  • Ix TechauIx Techau, almost 4 years ago

    It's not a catch-22 at all. What "X years of experience" means is: "go work in a more junior position first, you're not ready for this job".

    In other words, you are not entitled to start at the top. You should start at the bottom. Then, after a few years experience, you can work your way up. That is how a career works.

    12 points
    • Charlie McCullochCharlie McCulloch, almost 4 years ago

      I think the point was that many companies do not make allowances for junior positions. They all think its somebody else's responsibility to absorb the cost of training people up.

      19 points
      • Ix TechauIx Techau, almost 4 years ago

        I disagree. They all want a certain level of experience, hence why they request it. They're not thinking "this person is someone else's problem", they're thinking "this person is probably not ready to work here".

        2 points
        • , almost 4 years ago

          Then how would one get ready? If experience is mandated as a candidate requirement, how do you obtain that experience?

          1 point
          • Samuel ZellerSamuel Zeller, almost 4 years ago

            Here in Switzerland you can do a "Dual" formation. I went 4 years at a design school, half time I was at school and half time in a real company. When I obtained my paper I already had 4 years of half time real experience and I immediately landed a job. More countries should have this system...

            1 point
            • Mike Torosian, almost 4 years ago

              That's great. Would love to hear more about the kind of experience you obtained with the on-the-job training and how you felt that benefited you entering the industry after school?

              0 points
              • Samuel ZellerSamuel Zeller, almost 4 years ago

                Well in those 4 years I've been in different companies, first a photography studio for 6 months, then a video production company for 1 year and after that I met a 3D designer freelancer so I learned how to model/texture/render, then I finished in a tech company doing 3D stuff... Ended up finding a job in a design agency and worked for clients like Rolex, Bvlgari and L'Oreal. Doing mainly retail design (as well lot of 3D modeling and rendering) but also art direction and 3D viz. Then after a few years I was bored of all that and became a freelance photographer. Without that "on the job training" I would probably be selling tickets in a cinema. In fact on a class of 20 we're only 5 who are still working in the field.

                0 points
          • Account deleted almost 4 years ago

            Go to college or self initiate projects if you want to do the self taught route maybe. No employer expects a student applying for a junior position to have real world experience. They just want to know how you think and execute problem solving. You have to prove you have the skills somehow with some form of a portfolio.

            0 points
          • Ix TechauIx Techau, almost 4 years ago

            You obtain that experience somewhere else. Somewhere where experience isn't needed. Freelance, do pro-bono stuff for small startups, build up your experience. Then, after a few years, you have experience. Simple.

            0 points
            • Mike Torosian, over 3 years ago

              If you are coming in as an apprentice, though, you are doing it to obtain experience, not because you think you have it already.

              I don't think I have ever seen a job listings that said "no experience needed". At least not in this industry. Sure, you could attempt to freelance and do pro-bono work but the pro-bono stuff is not helping you get paid for your work and if you are out there on your own you may not be learning in a manner that would make you a desirable candidate, things like contracts, client communication, presenting work, etc. That is all experience that more advanced colleagues could share to help create more well-rounded professionals.

              0 points
        • Cory MalnarickCory Malnarick, almost 4 years ago (edited almost 4 years ago )

          ...but your comment represents the problem charlie is talking about – a world in which companies demand professionals, yet don't support the economy in providing an opportunity to develop professionals.

          ideally, the company you propose simply doesn't have space to hire juniors, in which case the quote you propose should be "this person is probably not ready to fill the role available at our company."

          0 points
    • James Young, almost 4 years ago

      / thread

      0 points
    • , almost 4 years ago

      I understand that not every position can take on entry-level talent which is why I specifically stated that I realize some positions require more experience than others for a reason. However, as an industry if we are going to complain about the lack of talent/experience within the hiring pool then it seems a solution would be to invest in training that talent. Experienced developers and designers have a wealth of on-the-job experience that can be hugely beneficial if shared.

      1 point
      • Ix TechauIx Techau, almost 4 years ago

        I never see anyone complaining about lack of talent/experience...but if they were, the solution would be for more people to accept that a career doesn't start at the top. In my day-to-day I constantly meet people with no experience who feel entitled to start their career in the middle as opposed to at the bottom. Generation snowflake just can't seem to realise they're not special. We all start at the bottom and work our way up.

        2 points
        • , almost 4 years ago (edited almost 4 years ago )

          I think that this can be a highly negative viewpoint. It seems almost as if because you accomplished something in your career a certain way that you feel everyone must go that same route. Why does it have to be that way?

          If you are in a position to share knowledge and help someone become more well-rounded and experienced within the field, why wouldn't you want to share that?

          I agree that SOME people can have a sense of entitlement, but I don't think that it applies to all candidates across the board. I think that you could pretty easily weed out people who felt they were special.

          You can also make the argument, though, that if more companies were willing to invest in training people who want to get into this line of work then perhaps it would shift the desire to want to start in the middle and instead make people want to seek out an apprenticeship. I think it all depends on the person.

          I think it would also be worth looking at the background of the people who you feel are entitled, why is that the case? Are they coming out of design programs that lead them to believe that they are mid-level by default?

          0 points
          • Ix TechauIx Techau, almost 4 years ago

            It seems almost as if because you accomplished something in your career a certain way that you feel everyone must go that same route. Why does it have to be that way?

            It doesn't have to be that way, some people are just so good that experience isn't needed. But for the most part, careers are built from the bottom up. That's how reality works, and will continue to work for some time going forward.

            Are they coming out of design programs that lead them to believe that they are mid-level by default?

            Maybe, but I think the larger problem is today's climate to be honest. The combination of overprotective parents and internet access early on results in snowflake people. They're spoiled individuals who are constantly being told they're special, and then the internet gives them a protected voice. We then have the celebrity culture that says you can get famous for having no talents at all, and voila a self-entitled brat who wants to start at the top is born.

            I meet these people every day. I've heard every excuse under the sun. "I don't do that sort of work", "I feel I'm senior already", etc.

            0 points
            • Mike Torosian, almost 4 years ago

              But for the most part, careers are built from the bottom up.

              I think starting as an apprentice is essentially starting from the bottom up.

              I meet these people every day. I've heard every excuse under the sun. "I don't do that sort of work", "I feel I'm senior already", etc.

              Those people would be easy to weed out based solely on those answers. If you are coming in with an arrogant attitude about work you think is beneath you then you probably aren't presenting yourself as a very desirable candidate anyway.

              0 points
    • Jordie SaenzJordie Saenz, almost 4 years ago

      The problem is when even Jr. positions require 2-3 years of experience.

      3 points
  • David Clements, almost 4 years ago

    Years is useless. Experience is relative to what you have done, not always how long you have done it. And I am 100% certain that I will always hire on talent, skillset and personality. Are we hiring for a senior position? Well, then can that person lead a team, communicate clearly, work with stakeholders, keep a project on track? These aren't based on how long you've been doing something but a multitude of other factors that everyone has uniquely about themselves.

    9 points
    • Saul SutcherSaul Sutcher, over 3 years ago

      Well put David!

      0 points
    • Ix TechauIx Techau, almost 4 years ago

      Bit of a weird conclusion. This timephobia has to stop. Someone with a 20 year career has not only proven experience over someone who just got out of university, but it's also verifiable experience - you can call previous employers and ask. So of course years matter. It's not the only thing that matters but it's hugely important.

      1 point
  • Luis da SilvaLuis da Silva, almost 4 years ago

    "You need to be Level 25 to enter the Dungeon" - Dungeon Recruiter NPC

    6 points
  • Charlie McCullochCharlie McCulloch, almost 4 years ago

    A few years back I was the first designer at a mobile agency. As we grew it became apparent very quickly that we simply couldn't find designers with mobile experience (this being the early days of the iPhone) - so we had no choice but to look for those with raw talent and good people skills as a priority.

    I didn't devise a formal training structure, but we instead grew a team that explicitly relied on constant peer feedback, shared learnings & tools, and no rockstar bullshit. It helped that this attitude was shared by the wider company. It worked really well with everyone pushing each other just enough that we all constantly improved and made some great products.

    6 points
  • Saul SutcherSaul Sutcher, almost 4 years ago

    Mike - thanks for raising this issue! I too have felt frustrated with this issue in our industry, and have been on both sides of proverbial table. I can't speak for others, but I personally feel it is my duty to spend some of my time training and helping others learn/improve.

    Unfortunately, there are numerous reasons why companies don't invest in zero experience candidates: risk they'll leave after you train them, pull on productivity of other designers, quality and consistency of work etc. All of these are amplified further for smaller companies/teams.

    Despite the risks, I think companies need to start thinking of apprenticeship not as the profitable thing to do, but the right thing to do. So many other art-related fields have relied on (and understood) the importance of apprenticeship - it's time for us to step up to the plate!

    Personally - I've found the biggest obstacle to this is the wide range of commitment and quality of zero experience candidates. Too often I've spent dozens if not hundreds of hours with someone, only for both of us to realize that design really isn't the right fit for them. How does one screen candidates for this x-factor with zero experience?

    Slightly related - I feel like x years experience is an outdated measurement of someone's skill level. Experience and skill depend on the person and the work environment.

    2 points
    • , almost 4 years ago (edited almost 4 years ago )

      Great response.

      Unfortunately, there are numerous reasons why companies don't invest in zero experience candidates: risk they'll leave after you train them

      I just have a hard time with that one, I honestly believe that if you show someone you are willing to invest in them and you provide them with a quality workplace they are more likely to stay. And even if they did leave, is that such a bad thing? You are sending them out into the world as a more well-rounded professional, there's certainly something to be proud of there.

      Personally - I've found the biggest obstacle to this is the wide range of commitment and quality of zero experience candidates.

      I think this would come down to the team that was taking on the apprentice. It would seem someone with no experience whatsoever would require more attention, so you would have to ensure that you could dedicate time toward that. However, if someone has a decent front-end background but the front-end job is asking for 4 years experience, and they have 2, does that mean they should automatically be disqualified? To me the years are not as important as a demonstrable desire to learn, good personality, good team collaborator, etc. I think those traits are far more important than any number of years. If you have 10 years experience but you are an arrogant jerk, does that make you a better fit?

      0 points
  • Greg Warner, almost 4 years ago (edited almost 4 years ago )

    This is definitely a problem if it hinders acceptance to junior positions for young designers and older designers who want to learn new skills. Obviously a company has a strong interest in staying profitable and being able to stay focused on client work, but an unwillingness to invest in others and give back to those needing experience to me shows a general lack of empathy. That's why we took on an intern this last semester at Worthwhile—we were clear we expected her to produce some value and professional work, but we also were invested in sharing, teaching, and preparing her for her next position. I love to see skill and experience, but I'm far more interested in seeing ability and eagerness to learn.

    2 points
    • Saul SutcherSaul Sutcher, almost 4 years ago

      Great point on empathy! As designers it's something we often try to tap into for our projects - seems we should be able to leverage that skill-set for this issue as well!

      0 points
  • Account deleted almost 4 years ago

    It would be more interesting if all commentators referenced where they live. I see some commentators are saying that you should build your career from rock bottom. And that is okay, but that people obviously live in some first-world progressive country. I live in Balkans and here everybody wants a professional with gazillion years in the field but interestingly enough there aren't actually schools for "digital" jobs - but they expect seniors on every corner, even juniors with xy years of experience. Many people fail to see that future worker should have other skills besides xy years in design, programming etc. And here, a major problem is a lack of open or available positions is such places. There are people (like me) who invest all their free time in honing skills in design, programming, marketing etc. but employers fail to recognize that effort and just seek for certain college and work experience.

    1 point
  • Ariel VerberAriel Verber, almost 4 years ago

    the problem is that many employees usually leave after 1-2 years top. so you've spent a few months making them a decent designer and you got a few extra from them and then they'll use this knowledge and experience to find a better paying job. i kinda get why many employers wouldn't invest in someone who doesn't have proven skills from the start, it's a risk.

    1 point
    • Nick TerryNick Terry, almost 4 years ago

      experience

      10 points
    • David Clements, over 3 years ago

      The turnover where I work is exceptionally low. People do not leave after 1 - 2 years. It's the norm for people to stay many years. But then instead of being cut out, if they do decide to move on, they're offered support and help in doing so. Investing in people is the only way to ensure you have the best people stay the longest.

      5 points
      • Evan MacAlpineEvan MacAlpine, over 3 years ago (edited over 3 years ago )

        I totally agree. At this point in my life I'd much rather work in a Junior/intermediate position at place that leaves a lot of room for growth and mentorship than in a senior level position at a place that just throws you to the dogs. And from my experience, you're right, the places that support their employees in this way experience a much lower turnover rate and a more positive work environment compared to those that don't.

        1 point
    • Ian GoodeIan Goode, almost 4 years ago

      In this market you haven't a hope of hanging onto decent designers if you're not training them and giving them every opportunity to grow. Not just junior designers, but all levels.

      1 point
      • Dean HaydenDean Hayden, almost 4 years ago

        Training and opportunity won't solve the problem of uninspiring projects to work on. This is why many designers leave for pastures new.

        1 point
    • , over 3 years ago

      I would like to see evidence that supports that statement. Sure, turnover is always going to be something you risk, but personally I think if you show an employee a quality workplace that invests in their future and ongoing education you are much less likely to lose them even if the pay is not comparable to what another company might offer. I think perks can compete with salary a lot of the time. And even if you did lose them, is that so bad? You are putting someone who is now more knowledgeable and professional out into the industry-at-large...seems OK to me.

      0 points
      • Ariel VerberAriel Verber, over 3 years ago (edited over 3 years ago )

        I guess it really depends on where you live and what's the culture there. I'm a freelancer, but most of my friends who are junior developers are pretty young and do change jobs quite fast. After around 1~ year of experience in their first job they get a much better opportunity from a different company, and it's enough to convince them to switch.

        0 points
  • Jake Lazaroff, almost 4 years ago (edited almost 4 years ago )

    Don't always agree with DHH but I think this post is pretty spot on: https://signalvnoise.com/posts/833-years-of-irrelevance

    1 point
    • , almost 4 years ago

      I hadn't seen that before, that's very interesting. Thank you for sharing.

      0 points
    • Joel CalifaJoel Califa, almost 4 years ago

      To be fair there's a difference between the platform experience DHH is discussing and general professional experience. No one is asking for 2+ years of Sketch experience.

      4 points
  • Nick Bewley, almost 4 years ago

    The real problem is recruiter bias stemming from lack of domain expertise and normative convention.

    So a poly sci major at Stanford with a weak dribbble profile looks better on paper than a seasoned freelancer who has shipped real—but not well known—digital products.

    0 points
    • Mike Torosian, almost 4 years ago

      I could definitely see that being a problem. I have seen from time to time the industry speaking out against recruiters - posting their pitches, kind of laughing about it, but obviously that wouldn't completely solve the problem.

      0 points
  • Shaun Smylski, almost 4 years ago (edited almost 4 years ago )

    I've spoken with a few companies that would rather train green, then un-train experienced design/coding positions out of old habits. Their reason is that it's less frustrating and more cost effective of their time.

    There are companies that do not spend time training, especially when it's purely a design role, but I like to believe there are greater benefits if they did.

    0 points
  • Account deleted almost 4 years ago

    I think you should work hard and proving yourself through years of experience. You might be a talented designer(or whatever position) starting off but you don't know squat about the culture of the workplace, presenting to clients etc. You build up skills over time, this takes years.

    If one wants to change professional direction they should take a course off hours (maybe get the company to pay and change positions within the organization) or work on personal projects and take a professional title hit and start somewhere else as a more junior level.

    0 points
    • Mike Torosian, over 3 years ago

      you don't know squat about the culture of the workplace, presenting to clients etc. You build up skills over time, this takes years.

      Imagine how much less time it would take, though, if you had experienced colleagues showing you the ropes.

      0 points
      • Account deleted over 3 years ago (edited over 3 years ago )

        Yes, you learn and practice this as a junior and mid-level.

        0 points
        • Mike Torosian, over 3 years ago

          I'm confused. Is your argument that one should invest in expanding their experience in their own time?

          0 points
          • Account deleted over 3 years ago

            Yes my argument is it takes years of experience and practice to grow and refine your skill set.

            0 points
            • Mike Torosian, over 3 years ago

              But how does that tie in with the topic of apprenticeships? Is your argument simply that you should learn on your own instead?

              0 points
              • Account deleted over 3 years ago

                Not at all, I just think internships are more suitable for students and anyone just starting a career. Never heard of people doing design apprenticeships, but thats me.

                0 points
                • Mike Torosian, over 3 years ago

                  I think that's because there aren't many companies out there offering them :D

                  There's other fields in the creative spectrum that certainly offer apprenticeships: glass blowing, tattooing, taxidermy, leather working. To me it is how you help ensure you are bringing quality people into the field.

                  0 points
  • Noam Almosnino, almost 4 years ago

    Great post Mike! I think it's not just design ,it's also around dev job openings as well. You're spot on in recognizing that we should look for people with demonstrable desire to learn (through side projects, open source, etc). In my experience it's those individuals who made the bigger differences than those with the fancier / more formal backgrounds, because they have a true interest to grow in the field.

    Related to this, I would watch Chef's Table S1 Episode 3 with Francis Mallmann. His approach is to hire less experienced chefs and help them grow into their craft. And then he encourages them to move on and start their own thing.

    In general our industry (tech/design/start ups) can learn a lot here. I see it less about competing and more about each designer having their own take on a subject, like there can be a good number of great restaurants and it's not just about market domination for one company ;)

    0 points
    • , almost 4 years ago

      Thanks Noam! Great response. I love the approach of Francis Mallman. I have seen a few comments throughout this thread that are related to people leaving, but so what? People leave, people have changes in their lives, their interests, they seek new challenges, new opportunities, and there's nothing wrong with that.

      We shouldn't avoid helping others grow out of a fear that they will one day leave. I would be more concerned that they would leave because they aren't being given an opportunity to grow.

      0 points
  • Alessandro Stigliani, almost 4 years ago

    I strongly agree with you Mike, i would even add that startup does not want you to gain experience by learning something new in your work time, most of the management i've come across think you should level up on subject only on your free time. And i am talking about design related subjects, not zen gardening.

    0 points