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The Plight Of The Young Worker: 3-5 Years Of The Wrong Experience.

I'm in the middle of a search for a marketing associate.  I have the good fortune of being both the recruiter and the hiring manager and the actual manager in this position, which means that I'm extra motivated to find the right person.  In this search, I not only get to flex my recruiting muscles and build out a network for my local market, I also get to re-experience what it's like to be a hiring manager. 

So here are my thoughts on that. 

I'm looking for someone with mid-level experience.  You know, 3-5 years of experience.  That's not my normal search pattern.  In fact, I far prefer to make fun of companies looking to hire someone with 3-5 years of experience than actually doing that kind of hiring. 

Let me explain with an old blog post

Every recruiter knows that the number one choice for technical hiring managers is that candidate with 3-5 years of experience.  The perception is that these candidates are still trainable, but able to contribute, and most of all, don't know their value in salary, which means they are cheaper than people with 10 or more years.  The thought, often wrong, is that the best time to capture someone is after their green but before they are too expensive.  With college hiring growing at the fastest pace we've seen since the late 90's, the supply of these intermediate employees is going to explode in the next 2-4 years.

I wrote that in April 2007, in the midst of the media boomlet about hiring Gen Y folks.  Do you know what happened the next year?  Total devastation for that hiring group.  Companies were busy laying off workers, not hiring new ones, which means much of the training that occurs in early years at small companies simply wasn't happening.  Those who had jobs couldn't get second jobs, and they were left to languish at their positions, often leaving and not finding new employment. 

Dallas was a challenge, but it wasn't too bad.  It's worse in other areas of the country.  Finding young workers with a few years of experience was not an easy task, and one of the reasons we moved to Dallas was the job prospects for hiring experienced employees was greater.  It is better down here - using my recruiting background, I've been able to quickly identify some top prospects, but it's not as robust as I would have expected. 

What I see instead is a lot of earnest young men and women with little work experience.  They have lots of internships and short tenures with companies doing work of dubious value.  When you speak and meet with them, you're not speaking the same language.  They just don't understand a workplace, or what it takes to learn.  Instead, you find young folks who drifted through corporations, untrained and unmentored.  And their resumes are easy to spot.  They're all "efficient practictioners of a wide variety of diversified and cost efficient marketing and business processes." That's all well and good until you ask them to send a fax or take notes for a meeting, and it's clear you have a lot of work ahead of you.

It's not dire.  The good news is that most of these young workers  want to be trained.  They want to be challenged.  They want someone to look them in the eye and tell them yes, no, don't do that, and go back and do it again.  Companies that need to hire are going to have to recognize this, and begin hiring in a different manner. 

Everything old is new again.   It's time once again to "hire for attitude, and train for aptitude."  The good news, is you don't have to pay high wages.  The bad news is that if you aren't a likable manager, they'll leave you in six months to a year for a better paying job at a company too inept to train their own employees.  Good luck out there.  I'm off to dust off my training manuals.