The Right Experience

“Although resumes and job application criteria demand that we best present ourselves with generic definition by way of title, work skills, employment and education history etc., we should not feel solely defined by words which stipulate only the skeleton of who we are.”

The job application process is in itself, an important undertaking for personal growth and development.

It took me quite some time after graduating from university, to secure a permanent job in my chosen field where my qualifications and potential were recognised. By necessity, I endured a casual gig in retail whilst trying to accrue ‘experience’ through various unpaid internships, freelance projects and volunteer work in my industry. All the while, aggressively searching and applying for ‘proper’ jobs of the 9-to-5 kind, with view to move up from that (seemingly) social indignity of not receiving a steady stream of income.

Looking for a full-time job is hard and disheartening, often bleak and always stressful. No matter your background, education or aptitude, not having the right experience for a role or simply not enough of it, typically sets you further and further away from an employer’s desirable foreground.

It didn’t make sense to me that having completed an Honours degree, accompanied with decent accolades and extra-curricular achievements, I could not land a job. My years of study never prepared me for the inevitable truth of essentially being unemployed and in my weaker moments, feeling utterly, ‘unemployable’.

I decided one day to start collecting my rejection letters and storing them in a box – so as to serve as a reminder of my trials when the day of first success eventually came around. It was a nice little idea in hindsight, though I don’t recall ever opening the box when the moment arrived.

Perhaps then, this simply means that we have no need to re-live our failures.  We often hold onto them because they have been a part of our journey, but they can never overshadow the good things that do happen because over time, it becomes less important for us to go back and open that box.

It is these sorts of personal experiences – the thoughts, reflections and internal analyses – that have taught me most about the person I want to be, and the things that I should and can change.  I’m more than what I’ve studied, what jobs I’ve had, what others say of me.

Although resumes and job application criteria demand that we best present ourselves with generic definition by way of title, work skills, employment and education history etc., we should not feel solely defined by words which stipulate only the skeleton of who we are.  It is in the contents, where there is the richness.

Indeed, there is merit in knowing how to write an effective cover letter and preparing an exceptional CV, but it is worth a thought that employers are often poor recruiters. Whether it be bureaucracy, nepotism or simply ignorance, many people in management positions are oblivious to the more effective methods of interviewing candidates and assessing application forms.

There seems to be a reliance on hiring candidates with experience, 2 to 3 years, if not 5 to 6.  How challenging it is for one without experience to accumulate this level of experience, when they cannot first acquire this experience due to their lack of experience!

Business risk is an ultimate deterrent, forcing managers to hire those whom already know the right things and whom presumably, already possess the strong skill-set to perform the duties of the position that has been advertised. Any person however, with a pen and some pride, can sound mighty irresistible on paper.

Over the last couple of years along my career pathway, I have sought out new challenges to ensure continuous personal growth. Again, the job application process (this time whilst working full-time) had caused some anxiety in the form of self-doubt and not feeling qualified enough to apply for more senior positions.

Recently however, a blunt email from a recruiter had turned my worry into a stirring, feminist confidence (a feeling I can attribute to maturity and a burgeoning sense of self-worth). Having sent a simple email asking whether or not a job vacancy was still available, I received this reply: “Yes it is but you don’t have the right experience.”

I had been judged before I had even applied for the job, merely due to this recruiter seeing a photo of me accompanied by a one-line description of my current role in an online profile of mine.  Needless to say, I was insulted, disappointed and compelled to write back: “Thank you for letting me know.  It is a shame however, that conclusions have been drawn about my experience without an initial opportunity to send through an application.”

Driven by curiosity and guilt (I’d like to think), this so-called recruiter upon seeing my email reply tried to call to justify his stance on the matter, and while his voice message was somewhat apologetic, I no longer had any interest in pursuing the advertised role within the given context, tainted in my eyes.

Some may say that my stubbornness cost me this potential opportunity, however on principle, I’m glad to not have given into such unfair, pre-empted judgement on my capabilities in the workforce.

Experience counts for much indeed, but I would argue, so does potential. There are many seemingly suitable candidates across industries with the ‘right experience’ for any given advertised job, but beyond the easily deceptive platform of the ‘resume’, an employer cannot guarantee a successful hire.

We are all much more than what our past experiences, travels, histories, journeys, successes, failures etc. reflect on us. We are evolving creatures that have scope to grow and improve, and most if not all of us, have goals, dreams and desires waiting to be realised across all different aspects of our lives.

Professional careers and pathways (especially in traditional bureaucratic sectors) are unfortunately, still inflexible models which pigeon-hole and limit individuals. Often, without the right (or enough) experience, we are not provided the opportunities to develop our innate skills nor have our passions nurtured. Companies, management, recruiters like us are not perfect beings, they too are driven by pressures that inhibit their ability to take risks, think creatively and implement holistic solutions.

Hence, I have come to appreciate the art of applying for jobs – this in itself, is the right experience to have, at the very least for a better sense of self and one’s future direction.

Challenge breeds opportunity and from rejection, comes strength.

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