The Experience Fallacy

                                                            By Brad Bell

          Imagine that you read an ad for a job that states that you must have at least ten years of relevant work experience.  However, you feel that you are highly qualified, but you only have three years of relevant work experience.  Is it fair for a hiring manager to exclude you from consideration for the job?  In my view, it is neither fair nor logical to exclude someone based merely on the amount of work experience.  Also, it is possible that someone with no relevant work experience could be a good employee.
         I refer to the assumption that the number of years of relevant work experience is a good indicator of one’s ability to do a job well as the experience fallacy.  Why would it be a fallacy?  I believe there are three basic reasons why the amount of relevant work experience may not be a very good indicator of the ability to do a job well.

Some People Learn More Quickly than Others

         Some people may learn more quickly than others.  Consequently, a person with five years of experience may learn less in those five years than another person with two years of experience.   To state that an applicant for a job must have a certain number of years of work experience may fail to take into consideration significant differences in how quickly people learn.
         It may be better to consider all applicants regardless of their years of work experience (and in some situations it may be best to state that no experience is needed).  The people who are responsible for hiring could look at other important factors that may reflect ability, such as academic accomplishments.  Moreover, applicants could be required to provide possible solutions to hypothetical problems in interviews to assess their thinking ability.  

There May Be Diminishing Returns in How Much We Learn in a Job

         In most jobs I have had, I learned the most during the first several months of having the job.  It did not seem that I learned much after the first several months.  After a year, I generally felt that I learned most of what I needed to learn.  This seemed to be true regardless of whether the job was simple or complex.  Thus, job knowledge may not be linearly related to the amount of work experience.
         In the first several months, we may learn the typical problems that may arise.  We may learn ways to solve the problems.   After several months, we may just encounter the same problems and utilize the same strategies to solve the problems.   There may few new types of problems after several months.  Thus, it may be good to develop interview questions that may help to determine how much knowledge an applicant has, and use the applicant's answers in hiring decisions.

Greater Work Experience Could Lead to Some Faulty Beliefs

         Greater work experience could lead to having less, rather than more, accurate knowledge related to a job.   Having greater work experience could lead to some faulty beliefs about cause and effect.  Our experiences may not allow us to control for other variables that could explain an outcome.  If we use a new strategy or procedure, the outcome might be explained by a number of variables we did not control for.  Thus, if we make causal conclusions about what works or not works based on work experiences, it is possible that some of these beliefs are faulty.  For example, imagine that you are a publisher who changed a cover of a book.  Six months later, sales of the book have significantly increased.  The publisher may have the belief that the cover of the book can significantly increase sales.  The problem with this belief is that there are other possible variables that were not controlled for that could explain the increase in sales.  One possible explanation is that the increase in sales is due to more people becoming aware of the book.