Work-Experience Limits Also Cut Potential… For Everyone.

by | May 24, 2024 | Ethics, Human Resources, I-O Psychology, Organizational Development, Workplace Culture | 0 comments

Fairer Methods Exist for Recruiting People Over Years Worked

Experience counts. However, limiting the value experience brings for the perceived sake of salary savings devalues an organization’s potential. I recalled a few years ago; I interviewed for about five rounds with a manufacturing company based in Europe that specialized in a tool-honing device. The position led the US marketing of this product and heavily relied on digital marketing, my specialty at the time. After all, I’d earned the Professional Certified Marketer (PCM) and the Certified Digital Marketing Professional (CDMP) credentials from AMA and DMI, plus credentials from Google, HubSpot, and other accredited sources. Moreover, by that time, I had more than a dozen years of solid digital marketing experience and had served multiple organizations in executive and consulting roles.

During the final interview, the interviewer asked me my age—strike one. He went on to ask about whether I had kids—strike two. In the end, he said that the company would likely not move forward with me because they sought someone who was more of a “digital native.” I was out of the game, but from an EEOC standpoint, any umpire would have called, “Strike three!”

So, here’s a blatant example of ageism in hiring. However, employers can use a much more subtle method to find “fresh, younger blood” to add to their workforce – oftentimes as a way to save money. They use a year range of experience as a cut-off for consideration.

Two to Seven Years of Experience as Entry Level?

Last year, while applying for a consulting position with a national firm, I received a rejection notice within hours of sending my resume. I appreciated that a real person emailed me, so I asked about their criteria to determine my ineligibility. The response stated, “We are looking for someone more entry-level with 2 to 7 years of experience.”

Some average tenures by years old as of 2022:

  • 20-24 years: 1.2 years
  • 25-34 years: 2.4 years
  • 35-44 years: 4.7 years

First, 2-7 years of work does not constitute entry-level. Entry level typically denotes 0 years of experience… ENTRY into the workforce. However, in 2021, LinkedIn found that up to 38.4% of entry-level jobs required at least three years of experience. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the working age begins at 16, and according to LinkedIn, most workers gain an entry-level job between the ages of 20 and 24.

With simple math, a 2-7-year requirement:

  • Places those who started working at 16 years of age at 18-23 years old
  • Places those who started working later, say at 24 years of age, at 26-31 years old.

Considering that a consulting firm typically requires a bachelor’s degree, stating that 2-7 years of experience cuts off consideration for anyone over 31 years old. To make a blunt statement, people over the age of 40 – those protected by the EEOC – do not fall within this range. However, somehow, this practice appears to persist in many job descriptions.

How About Eight Years of Experience?

In speaking with a couple of colleagues in professional recruiting within the last month, they stated that their client set the experience level at eight years maximum. Therefore, they had to turn away anyone with fewer than six years and more than eight years. So, I thought I would do some basic math…

I started working at 16 and had my first managerial position at 19. I graduated from UChicago at 22, had a senior-level and multi-location manager position by 23, was a junior-level executive by 26, and owned my first business by 30. So, let’s put some of this into context. Let’s state that the average college graduate is 24 years old. So…

  • Early college graduate: 22 years old
  • Average college graduate: 24 years old
  • Late college graduate or Master’s degree graduate: 26 years old
Age2 Years of Experience5 Years of Experience8 Years of Experience10 Years of Experience

I mean not to oversimplify this, but math demonstrates that recruiters’ restrictions on considering experience disadvantage workers over the age of 36. This means those in the protected class of people over 40 do not stand a chance.

Why Do Employers Restrict Based on Experience?

The rationale behind the experience ranges purportedly helps employers save on paying people with more experience more money. Other frequently cited reasons for limiting candidates based on years of experience include avoiding workers becoming bored in their jobs or wishing to leave because of a lack of job satisfaction. However, employers predicting these outcomes often make poorly informed assumptions… and we know what assumptions make of you and me.

A Better Way to Hire

Again, yes, experience does count. I will not dispute that. However, limiting the value experience brings for the perceived sake of salary savings appears to devalue an organization’s potential. Consider that when employers post high-quality job descriptions based on job analysis and those positions have transparent salary ranges, applicants understand what they can expect regarding compensation and requirements. By choosing to apply, candidates demonstrate that they have a readiness to accept the terms of employment, with some negotiation. So, the fears of higher costs or attrition may not have a solid basis.

Here are some evidence-based, talent-optimization methods for recruiting that go beyond just years of experience:

Skills-based assessments:

  • Skills-related interview questions: Ask questions where candidates share STAR  (Situation, Task, Action, Results) stories to illustrate how they use their skills.
  • Simulations: Create realistic job simulations that mimic a candidate’s tasks, allowing you to assess their capabilities directly.
  • Pre-employment testing: Utilize validated tests that assess specific skills required for the job, like coding abilities, data analysis, or software proficiency.

Focus on potential over experience:

  • Behavioral interviewing: Ask questions about a candidate’s past behavior to predict future performance. Instead of “How many years of experience do you have in X?” ask, “Tell me about a time you had to overcome a challenge related to X.” Again, candidates sharing STAR stories can demonstrate their capabilities and the value they bring.
  • Focus on competencies: Identify the key competencies needed for success in the role and assess candidates based on those, regardless of experience level. Those competencies include knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics (KSAOs) that HR or Industrial-Organizational Psychology professionals can identify with a job analysis.

Look for cultural fit:

  • Structured interviews: Develop a set of interview questions that all candidates answer, ensuring a fair and objective evaluation.
  • Team interviews: Involve team members in the interview process to assess how well the candidate would fit within the team dynamic.

Embrace alternative backgrounds:

  • Consider transferable skills: Look for candidates with transferable skills from other industries or roles that demonstrate their ability to learn and adapt.
  • Project-based hiring: Assign a short-term project relevant to the job and evaluate the candidate’s problem-solving and execution skills.

These methods provide a more objective way to assess a candidate’s true potential and fit for the role,  leading to better hiring decisions and a more qualified workforce. They may also protect against disparate impacts on older workers. Stop imposing experience limits if you want a more harmonious workplace.

Get Help and Advice

A third-party consultant can offer solutions to help you design and implement a hiring strategy that works for your organization for talent optimization and organizational development. For more information, contact WorkBalance Consulting today for a complimentary ½ hour consultation from a Certified Management Consultant (CMC) or I-O Psychology consultant.


Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). (2024.) Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey. 

Coursera. (2024). What is an entry-level job? 

Flynn, J. (2023). How long is the average US tenure in 2023? Zippia.

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