Evaluating Experience

Experience is routinely framed as a pre-requisite (i.e. do you meet Experience X? yes or no).

In my Agency (Canada Revenue Agency), we’ve had a long history of also considering and evaluating the quality of one’s experience in order to make appointments/placements. So from a pool of qualified candidates, a hiring manager would define a key type of experience (eg. project management) and gather information from candidates to determine who had the richest experience (sort of a Good, Better, Best approach). We are currently debating the appropriateness of drawing distinctions in experience in this manner. One proposed alternative is to only frame experience in a “meets/does not meet” context and/or to draw out the elements of “richer experience” by measuring the elements of knowledge and abilities that are inherent with “richer experience”.

Personally, I think evaluating and rating experience to help tease candidates apart has value and is more efficient as a concept than trying to elicit the same information by way of assessing knowledge. For example, a candidate with 10 years experience as a manager vs a candidate with 18 months could easily summarize key features of their experience (job roles, key projects, etc) in 2-3 pages and the one with the “richer” experience could be identified by the board with a suitable rating guide. Conversely, trying to draw out similar info by way of a knowledge test is a more daunting (less efficient) exercise.

Would be interested to know how other departments/agency’s evaluate experience as part of a staffing proces.

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Mark Hammer

I think it is also important to ponder the relative value of “experience” vs “recent experience”. Some kinds of position responsibilities involve working knowledge of certain policies, practices, or protocols that are current, and tend to change over time. A bonehead example, I suppose, but if you were a software wiz in 1993, you’re probably not a software wiz if you’ve not been in the field since that time. But some things ARE fairly timeless. Statistics hasn’t changed in many generations, nor have most of the core competencies for managing people, or for writing briefing notes. That doesn’t stop job postings from insisting on recent experience.

Some folks would likely disagree with you that assessing experience can be less laborious, and as informative, as knowledge-testing. Especially when one considers the extent to which people exaggerate (and sometimes fabricate) the amount of experience they have had in some role, or what their duties were in a previous position. One may have engaged in some task/duty 3-4 times over a 2-year tenure within a position and claimed that you had “2 years’ experience in X”. In such instances, it can be more dependable to simply assess what they know how to do with respect to specifiable skills.

We ask about experience because we presume it to be a marker of knowledge and skills that can often only be acquired in certain contexts. Same way we ask about education: we assume that if one has a degree or diploma in X, at some given level, then you’ll know more about X. But, much like “experience” it is quite possible to have the nominal training in a given area but lack the requisite knowledge. Alternatively, you can have trraining in what seems to be the “wrong” thing, and still possess the ideal knowledge. One of my co-workers has a graduate degree in measurement and evaluation, and as much chops in stats as anyone in government could hope for. The degree was offered within the faculty of education. When we were staffing the position, I had to force my manager to consider her application because he didn’t know such training was offered under the banner of “education”. As an economist, trained at the other end of the country, he thought she had a teaching diploma or something.

And, as a Canadian federal aside, one of the reasons why the “informal discussion” mechanism was instituted in the current Public Service Employment Act, and has become so useful, is precisely because so many errors are made in evaluating T&E. As time marches on, it becomes harder and harder to peg down what it is people likely know how to do, based on their academic program’s name, or their job title. People who might otherwise be screened out now have the opportunity to explain, before things have moved too far along to rectify, why they believe an error was made in assessing their T&E, and many (though certainly not the lion’s share) get screened back in and eventually hired.

So, while it is certainly useful to examine T&E as a first screen, it is a bit of a 2-legged stool, in terms of reliability. I would certainly not recommend using it as a substitute for examining knowledge. A supplement, yes, but I doubt many assessment and selection specialists would accept it as a substitute of equal validity.

Peter Sperry

You also need to ask whether the experience was in cyclical activities producing 2 years of experience repeated 20 times or in diverse activities which can provide 20 years of experiential growth in 20 months. The former tends to be more common but the latter is more valuable.

Mark Hammer

When one takes Peter’s cogent comment into account, I’m less sure than you are about whether evaluating “experience” is necessarily less laborious than a simpler straightforward knowledge test.

Yes, they’re a royal pain to devise if it’s not the sort of thing one does regularly, and most hiring managers justifiably treat them as labour-intensive to score, but they get right to the heart of the matter, and are far more defensible against challenge.

Speak to Sikhander Majid in your organization. He’ll set you straight. Tell him I sent you. 🙂