March 18, 2022
Daniel Fellows

In the hundreds of thousands of Job Ads we’ve optimised over the last three years at Get-Optimal HQ, the lion’s share has included a ‘years of experience’ requirement. 

“The ideal candidate will have at least five years of experience in a similar role.” “We are looking for someone with 8-10 years of related experience.” “The successful applicant will have 7+ years of experience in the industry.” Sound familiar?

To a certain degree (we’ll get onto degrees later), we can understand the rationale behind recruiters and TA folk’s desire to specify ‘years of experience in’ a Job Ad. Someone who has fulfilled a similar role should, in theory, be free to make an immediate impact on your company/client.

That being said, it can be dangerous and counterproductive to place too much emphasis on previous experience. Specifying the number of years experience in a Job Ad can expose your company or organisation to claims of age discrimination.

Make no mistake: a requirement to have a minimum number of ‘years of experience’ potentially discriminates, albeit indirectly, against younger applicants who are less likely than older candidates to be able to fulfil the criteria.

Conversely, a Job Ad seeking candidates with say “a minimum of three years and a maximum of seven years relevant experience” means those who exceed the experience cap, typically more mature candidates, will be discriminated against.

Father-of-four, Dale E. Kleber had been out of work for three years when he came across a Job Ad back in 2014 for a legal position at a medical technology company, CareFusion.

The Job Ad stated that applicants should have no more than seven years of experience but, feeling the financial strain of several years of unemployment and with three of his four children living at home, the 58-year old American applied anyway.

CareFusion went on to hire a 29-year-old and Kleber promptly sued for age bias. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit didn’t agree with Kleber and supported the medical technology company in a blow to older Americans, who often feel overlooked in the recruitment process as a result of their age.

However the case just goes to show  that ‘years of experience’ is a contentious and grey area – and no two HR lawyers will ever give you the same answer.

If you really want to reduce age bias in your Job Ads while widening and diversifying your talent pool, then removing ‘years of experience’ is a good start. 

Instead, focus on the skills and attributes required to undertake the role. Rather than requesting 2+ years of experience, why not ask for hands-on learning or entry-level experience?  And in lieu of asking for 5+ years of experience, try stating that you’re looking for proven, demonstrable and recurring success.

Why does all this matter? Well not only does including arbitrary ‘years of experience’ conceivably smack of age bias, but it can have a negative effect on gender diversity hiring.

Research by Harvard Business Review revealed that women are wary of applying for a job unless they’re 100 per cent qualified. By contrast, men apply when they meet 60 per cent of the criteria.

This trend can be attributed to the fact that women tend to view job requirements as rules, whereas men typically see them as suggestions.

Including an exact number of ‘years of experience’ could, therefore, deter talented women – who would no doubt be a huge asset to your organisation – from even applying.

Another reason why you should ditch ‘years of experience’ from your Job Ads is that it implies you value the amount of years over the quality of those years.

The length of time an employee has been in their role doesn’t necessarily relate to their capability to fulfil their responsibilities.

Someone who has done it all before may well be less adaptable to new ideas and ways of working. You want to hire a candidate who can prove that they are able to deliver what you need, not an applicant with years of experience.

Put simply: experience isn’t a substitute for skill, expertise, attitude and work ethic. It merely signals an ability to retain a job for a particular period of time.

That’s not to say experience is a detrimental attribute. High-quality experience can certainly add value to your business. 

But hiring for ‘years of experience’ can put your Ads at risk of age bias while simultaneously limiting your talent pool.

Our message? Think long and hard before including ‘years of experience’  in your Job Ads. Chances are that being so hyper-specific will only hurt, not help, your hiring.

Daniel Fellows

*Image courtesy of Unsplash