28. "Experience" required

No, your experience doesn't count

"Entry-level position. Minimum 2 years experience..."

When's the last time you applied for a job? I did it in February. It's a terrible process designed to rob you of any and all dignity, like security lines in an airport, baggage retrieval carousels in an airport... basically everything about airports.

Looking through postings I was struck by the number of “entry-level” jobs asking for experience. It's the "to apply for a visa to stay in this country you must first leave this country" of the business world. Not just for its inherent contradiction, but for how in some cases it doesn’t seem to apply at all.

I've worked in a variety of startups, agencies, and tech companies over the last 8 years, and they all share two things in common. They throw super crazy parties. And they have people with no directly relevant experience working in all sorts of roles.

Fresh out of university grads as data scientists, content managers, IT specialists, human resource everythings. Really capable people with nothing remotely resembling experience in those positions. They’re just hired, put to work, and generally seem excellent.

They also tend to be Oxbridge grads. For all you non-Brits, Oxbridge is a portmanteau of Oxford and Cambridge, the two most prestigious universities in the UK. Think Prinvard if you live in the States.

When you tell people you've hired an Oxbridge grad who doesn’t have any direct experience, they’re usually not surprised for one of two reasons. They’re either not surprised because Oxbridge people illuminati their way into every crevice of polite society. Or they’re not surprised because Oxbridge people are clever sorts from a top clever incubator.

In both cases, they're saying it's a pretty good idea to go to Oxbridge because it affords one certain life advantages, like getting hired for a role that would normally require 2 to 3 years of experience. In a way it makes sense. Tech companies want to hire the best possible people. The best possible people probably go to the best possible schools. It's barely worth mentioning.

And yet.

In 2019, Oxford University announced that its incoming class had the highest proportion ever of ethnic minority students. The highest proportion since its founding in, wow, 1096. 1096!

That proportion – 18%.

It's hard to find exact figures for diversity in startups and tech companies, but by any available numbers it ain't good. If you look at just boards and senior leadership the situation is even bleaker.

I'm not saying that anyone isn't deserving of their role. I've always worked with really great people.

And I'm not here to litigate whether asking for experience for entry-level positions makes any sense. I'm not even going to question whether asking for experience at all has any effect on who's likely to apply or be hired.

I'm just wondering aloud, in this safe space, about what seems to be a wobbly fucking standard.

If you ask for experience but waive that requirement for people from certain universities, and those universities have, traditionally, some of the least diverse graduating classes in the world, you're saying something very specific with your hiring practices without uttering a word.

Without enacting an official policy you’re making a systemic decision on who can and can’t work in your company. And who eventually does and does not.

When I was a creative in advertising I would often find myself the only non-white person in the room. It never stopped being weird.

The only time this wasn’t true was at an agency in Brixton which had a specific mandate to work with underrepresented youth. Otherwise it was me and the white dude chorus, hashing out campaigns where “diversity” was the buzziest of buzz words.

Efforts at representation by major agencies and studios tend to come across as empty tokenism because, well, they are. That one campaign we get to be in. That white character who in the remake is now Chinese. The Sex and the City, but, you know, with Black people. I usually think something is better than nothing (I wrote a newsletter saying as much) but in this case, something feels like less than nothing.

And the number of times things are just tonally off, like a badly dubbed kung-fu flick! The faces look right but the words are all wrong. It’s almost as if instead of making the odd gesture towards diversity and representation, they should do something more meaningful.

Like hire the people they claim to want to represent.

It’s not rocket science is it. Want to make something that represents a group? Hire a team from that group! Anything else is window dressing, virtue-signalling sleight of hand.

Because representation is important. I mean, just look at who gets a statue.

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