Words of Advice on Job Experience

by Fred Siegmund

Many job seekers know the phrase “We’re looking for someone with more experience.”

It might be true, but there are reasons to be suspicious it’s just an excuse in order to have an easy way to end an interview.

A few years ago, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expanded their classification of occupational education and training to include job experience in related occupations and on-the-job training, or on the job experience, in addition to their review of necessary high school or college degree skills.

When job applicants learn they need experience, they usually think of experience working in the same occupation rather than experience in another related occupation, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics defines experience in both.

Experience in a Related Occupation

In the new expanded classification survey, employers rate the experience in a related occupation to be

  1. More than 5 years
  2. 1 to 5 years
  3. Less than a year
  4. None

Almost all managerial positions require experience in the related occupations they will manage. For example, financial managers need more than five years experience in finance. Advertising managers need 1 to 5 years experience in advertising. It follows that finance or advertising managers need experience in finance or advertising before they are ready to manage others. There are 6.3 million management jobs in 2012 and ninety-five percent of them require experience in their related occupations.

First line supervisors are an additional layer of management and job applicants are also expected to have prior experience doing the jobs they supervise. First line supervisors had just over 6 million jobs in 2012 including first line supervisors of office and administrative support workers with 1.3 million jobs and first line supervisors of retail workers with another 1.2 million jobs.

Excluding management and supervisory occupations, some other occupations where employers want related experience include judges with experience as lawyers, management analysts with experience as managers, information security analysts, web developers and database administrators need experience in computer work, instructional coordinators need teaching experience, and fire and building inspectors need work in the field.

Including management and supervisory occupations, 82 of 839 occupations with data reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics need experience in related occupations, which is just 15 percent of America’s 130 million jobs in 2012.

Job Experience in the Same Occupation

Job applicants should differentiate demands for experience in a related occupation from the demand for experience in the same occupation. Job experience in an occupation that adds to qualifications is defined in these categories of on-the-job training or essential on the job experience:

  1. internships
  2. apprenticeship programs
  3. long, medium and short term on-the-job training programs

After allowing for jobs that need experience in a related occupation, there were 110.9 million jobs left in 2012, but only 86.5 million of them needed some type of on-the-job training or experience to be fully qualified. Of those 86.5 million left to consider, 52.2 million need a bit of informal on the job training of a month or less. Remaining jobs include 29.1 million jobs with a formal apprenticeship program, or employer-sponsored long-term training programs of a year or more or medium term training of one to twelve months. Finally, 5.2 million of the jobs of 2012 need a period of internship or residency to be qualified.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics on-the-job classifications shows the need for experience depends primarily on the level of formal education applicants bring to a job. In 2012, there were 399 occupations in the Standard Occupational Classification that required only high school or less than high school skills; 99 percent of the jobs in all but 3 of the occupations need previous experience for employers to be satisfied they are qualified.

These jobs are primarily in construction and production occupations along with selected office support, installation-maintenance-repair and transportation occupations. Some like carpenter, electrician, plumber, and machinist have apprenticeship or long-term training needs; many machine setters, operators and tenders and assembly occupations in manufacturing require medium term on-the-job training. Customer service representative, office clerk and secretarial occupations require some on the job training or experience.

Without experience, employers have a choice to pay more for qualified applicants or to incur the time and expense for on-the-job training to make someone fully qualified. Training expenses tend to be covered with lower entry wages.

As applicants apply for jobs that need more formal education, the need for job experience goes down. There are 90 occupations that need one- or two-year post secondary awards or associates degrees; the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 14.9 percent of these jobs in 35 of the 90 occupations need previous experience for employers to be satisfied they are qualified. Among the 35 occupations, 18 have repairer or installer or both in their job title: electrical and electronic repairers, precision instrument repairers and so on. Another 8 have technician in their job title: audio and video equipment technicians, environmental science technicians and so on. Include firefighter, auto insurance adjuster, and desktop publishing.

There are 128 occupations that need BA degree training, only 11 percent of these jobs in 21 occupations need some long, medium or short term on the job training and experience. Actuaries, writers and editors, and interpreters and translators need long term experience after a BA degree. Employers usually expect financial examiners, credit counselors, insurance underwriters, and tax examiners to have, or to need, some on the job experience or training. Include public relations specialists from multi media and communications occupations and several specialized sales occupations that need some medium term on the job training.

The BA degree has 17 other occupations confined to architecture, public school teaching, and nursing specialties such as nurse practitioner that have required internships not included in the 21 occupations mentioned above. Internships draw a fine distinction between on-the-job training and education. For example, public school teachers typically do an internship as student teachers while they are still tuition paying students. Physicians do internships as paid interns and residents after they have finished medical school degrees.

Job applicants should be suspicious of anything called an internship unless it is required for an accredited degree or licensure. On some occasions internships have turned into a scheme to lure college students or recent college graduates into working for free, or for a minimal stipend. Abuses have occurred often enough that the Department of Labor has written rules to distinguish internships from what should be paid employment.

Unpaid interns should not be doing the recurring work of a business that would have to be done by a paid employee. It should be for a declared time period, but without fixed hours or the promise of a job, and only if there is a training benefit useful to all employers. Internships are not trial employment because employers are legally required to pay at least the minimum wage for employment.

Recent college graduates should be careful before accepting anything called an internship. Some companies have entry level paying jobs called internships because they end after a year without continuing employment, but normally internships are education not employment. Those with BA degree have skills for a job; internships mean delay and a dubious promise for the future.

Required internships in the Bureau of Labor Statistics listings apply only for those with BA or higher degrees and few apply outside of medicine and public school teaching. The 26 occupations that need MS degree skills do not have on the job training programs, only 12.4 percent of these jobs in 4 occupations need internships: all therapy and counseling occupations. There are no occupations that need PhD skills that require internships, or that have on the job training programs. Degrees generally substitute for experience.

Departing Words

The Bureau of Labor Statistics review of training and experience clearly establishes that experience is not as important as many employers say and many job applicants think. When the job add reads applicants should have at least 5 years experience, do not be intimidated. Know where experience counts and forge ahead to negotiate with the skills and experience you have. Doing the same job over and over for years does not necessarily add much to skills, if any. For occupations where experience really adds to qualifications the need for experience limits the pool of applicants and forces employers to pay higher salaries.

Those who have the skills and confidence without the experience still have room to negotiate over wages and move to the front of the line. Remember employers want qualified applicants and skills count the most.

About the author: Fred Siegmund covers America's jobs as part of work doing labor market analysis and projections for a client base of recruiters, trainers and counselors. Visit him at www.americanjobmarket.blogspot.com

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