But why should there be such a debate at all? Don't organizations have institutionalized, scientific, job-evaluation processes for determining the relative worth of each position, and detailed job descriptions to define the core competencies and demographic profile of the incumbent for a given position? Don't these job descriptions, besides defining the knowledge and skill requirements, also detail the experience-range that would be ideally required to deliver a standard level of performance?
While these job descriptions and specifications are very useful in ensuring a better fit between the role and the incumbent in the majority of cases, they also have inherent limitations. All such systems assume that a standard time frame, defined in years, is required for honing competencies to the level required for effective performance in a given role. These time frames, while generally accurate for a standard performer, fail to fit those who are high performers or fall at the lower end of the performance continuum.
Secondly, these organizational systems assume that a person acquires the job competencies required for a given role by spending a defined time frame performing the same or related jobs, while discounting unrelated experiences. For example, a person who may have volunteered for a year in Syria, working with civilians affected by the civil war there, could have also acquired competencies that may be useful for certain roles in organizations as well. However, such experiences are often summarily discounted as not related to or useful for roles in federal organizations and the corporate world.
Therefore, while defining experience in terms of years may be an accepted practice (and rightly so), managers also need to evaluate experience beyond a simple numerical value and see it more in terms of a complex qualitative and quantitative equation with a clear consideration for the outcomes desired for a role. During my career, I have utilized job descriptions extensively as a general guideline for sourcing candidates or making promotion decisions. I have also developed certain "experience analysers" for taking decisions where factors like experience and age seem to play a crucial part, and share them here.
Length of service or breadth of experienceOne of the factors that I have found useful in either discounting or considering experience, is the quality and variety of the experience the person brings. We can define the range of experience with the help of three parameters:
- variety of specializations and situational contexts;
- level of specialization; and
- period defined in terms of the number of years, volume of work, etc., in addition to behavioural competencies.