Skills vs. Experience: Which Matters More?

May 17, 2019  |  No Comments  |  by Terrylynn Smith  |  Blog

It’s the classic “catch-22” for anyone trying to land their first job, or anyone trying to change careers. How do you get the job without experience? But how do you get experience unless someone gives you a job??

“Experience required.” “Experience preferred.” For years, this has been the classic barrier to entry for so many job seekers. The one thing the employer wants from you is the one thing the job itself would give you: EXPERIENCE.

Well, here’s the good news: That whole dynamic is starting to change.

A growing number of employers and companies are shifting their focus away from work experience. They’re changing their hiring practices and broadening their pool of potential hires by looking more at skills.

One of the most notable recent examples is IBM, which is changing the way they look to fill job openings across the country. In an op-ed for USA Today, CEO Ginni Rometti explains how the company is targeting a new type of employee she calls “new collar” workers:

“As industries from manufacturing to agriculture are reshaped by data science and cloud computing, jobs are being created that demand new skills,” she says. “The surprising thing is that not all these positions require advanced education. Certainly, some do – such as in quantum computing and artificial intelligence… But in many other cases, new collar jobs may not require a traditional college degree. In fact, at a number of IBM’s locations spread across the United States, as many as one-third of employees don’t have a four-year degree. What matters most is that these employees – with jobs such as cloud computing technicians and services delivery specialists – have relevant skills.”

Why the Shift?

Why are companies less focused on your experience and more interested in your skills? There are a few possible reasons:

  • The digital age is changing the way companies do business. As a result, many employers are creating brand-new positions for which there is no specific degree or education track, and for which few people would have measurable experience. (IBM is a good example of this.)
  • Companies are changing the way they form teams. This is why so many HR departments include psychological evaluations, and why more job interviews consist of personality-type questions. Employers are more interested in whether someone is a good fit for the team than how many years of experience they have.
  • The new generation of business owners has a different set of priorities. Companies run by Millennials, for example, will approach the hiring process much differently than a company that’s been run by the same people for the past 50 years. Younger professionals are more interested in what you can do than how many years you’ve worked.

Time to Re-Think the Resume

Since companies are rethinking how they choose job candidates, it naturally follows that we may need to rethink how we present ourselves as candidates—especially on our resumes. Author Kelly Palmer puts it this way in an article she wrote for Entrepreneur: “The most important part of someone’s resume is no longer education, or even experience. The most important section, by far, is the candidate’s skills.” Ironically, traditional resume formats either downplay the skills section or eliminate it completely—focusing primarily on work experience and education. So how can you adjust your resume to highlight your skills? Here are a few tips to start:

  • Place the skills section in a prominent area of the resume—not at the end.
  • Tailor the skills section toward strengths the employer may be looking for. If you’re applying for a job that needs coding or social media skills—and if you have these skills—be sure to include them. (By the same token, if you’re not applying for culinary position, you can probably skip the fact that you bake a mean lemon meringue pie, as that won’t be relevant.)
  • Rewrite your work experience section to accentuate your skills. For instance, if your programming skills helped solve a significant problem for your previous employer, be sure to include a sentence to that effect when describing what you did at that job. (This can be especially helpful when applying to a job outside your normal wheelhouse because it gives the employer context for how your skills can be useful.)

Just to be clear—I’m not saying work experience doesn’t count at all anymore. It still does, and that’s why you’re still seeing job listings asking for at least minimum amounts of experience. But times are changing, so are employer attitudes—and more and more, we’re finding that employers are more likely to overlook your limited experience if they believe you have the skills they need.

Obviously, this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you feel your lack of experience is a barrier to getting hired, I can help you tailor your entire presentation (including your resume) to accentuate your skills, gifts and strengths to help you land the job you want. For a free 30-minute consultation, give me a call at 646-320-1126.

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