Are You Experienced? (With Apologies To Jimi)

Today is Simcoe Day in Ontario, and while others are no doubt enjoying the long weekend, for me it’s another day of job searching. While most businesses are closed this holiday Monday, a manager of a store that had a vacancy for a cashier position used his Blackberry to tell me my application was turned down. After over two years of job searching, you get used to the “sorry, you were not considered” responses….when they at least have the courtesy to respond, that is. This particular turndown, however, rubbed me the wrong way.

As with every application where I do not get the job, I ask the hiring manager in question the reason why I was not considered. Not in an accusing or snarky way, mind you. More like, “can you explain the reason why I was not considered so I may learn from this experience for future job applications?”. I was told, as quoted below, in the reply below:

“you — have no experience behind a regitser (sic) and I have no time to train”

It is true I haven’t recently worked behind a cash register, since I worked at a movie theatre in the 80s. The machine I worked with was similar to the image supplied in this post. The drawer would jam sometimes, and when it did pop out, it’s best to stand back a bit so you didn’t get a surprise whack. One time the key snapped in the lock when I turned it, so we had to phone for help to get the fragment out.

But enough with the walk down Memory Lane. The point I’m trying to make is that employers used to have the time to train people for entry-level positions like this. At that theatre I worked for, I had the manager standing next to me telling me what to do, such as how to count the change back to the customer after they paid for their popcorn and soda. Oh, and to always remember to say “Enjoy the show!” Even though I made mistakes, and the theatre was pretty busy at times, I learned how to use the cash register.

Because I applied in-person at the store that was advertising the cashier position, I know what the cash register (POS terminal) looks like. It’s basically a computer with it’s own operating system and a bar code reader. You don’t even enter the price of the product, you scan the reader over the product’s bar-code and it displays everything on screen. It even computes the change for you so you don’t have to work it out yourself.

Look, no offense to anyone reading this who has worked with these terminals — and please feel free to write to tear a strip out of me if I’m oversimplifying things —- but I was once responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of hardware and software. If I can apply a kernel patch to a SAP instance, learn a new programming language (Winbatch) on my own time, and compile a new device description using PCL to get a Canon Imagerunner 5570 to print properly, I’m sure I can learn, in time and with patience, how to operate a POS. What rankled me was that I wasn’t even given a chance to try.

I’m not saying “to hell with experience” and let any Tom, Dick, Or Harry (or Tammy, Donna, Or Helen!) come in and take jobs without ensuring these people know what they are doing. Some high-level professions in science, engineering, and finance require knowledge and experience that would take far too long to learn on-the-job, and any beginner’s mistake could be disastrous. What I am saying is that not all job positions are like that, despite the overinflated opinion of some hiring managers that don’t understand the position they are trying to fill. Some job positions can be understood through employment mentorships or other forms of on-the-job training. I briefly touched on this in a previous post.

We must make it easier for job-seekers to get work experience for entry-level positions like this. Otherwise, young people and those trying to change careers will continue to face the Catch-22 that keeps them unemployed. How can anyone build work experience if managers won’t hire them because the applicant has no work experience?

I’d like to close by saying that being a good employee is not just knowing the job inside and out. It’s about being fearless. It’s about the willingness to try and to think outside the box. It’s about having a good work attitude. I remember one time, at one company I worked for, a young man who was brilliant with computer technology. He really knew his trade. The problem was he also loved to party late into the early hours and would often stagger in late for work looking like Keith Richards. The information technology manager went above and beyond his duties to try to set the employee straight, but in the end he had to let him go because he couldn’t straighten up and fly right. In the end, he didn’t lose his job because of experience. He lost his job for the other important things that were required for the position.

It’s these other important things that hiring managers sometimes forget to factor in when trying to find that experienced employee to fill a vacancy.

Thanks for reading!


UPDATE: 08/16/2012 – Eleanor Gordon, a secondary level languages teacher looking for a change in career, has written an excellent article  about her own frustration at hitting the experience wall, despite having so many amazing skills.


7 thoughts on “Are You Experienced? (With Apologies To Jimi)

  1. Another interesting post. I completely understand your frustration. I have speculatively enquired at some informal restaurants and cafes about joining their service team, and am always turned away because of a lack of experience. One turned me away by saying that an inexperienced person would not “have what it takes” to manage the competing demands of many people in a small space, while still smiling and being polite. I had introduced myself as an ex-secondary school teacher. I’m not saying I would be an amazing waitress straight off the bat, but surely my skills would be transferable and I could learn the necessary processes quickly.

    1. ‘One turned me away by saying that an inexperienced person would not “have what it takes” to manage the competing demands of many people in a small space, while still smiling and being polite. I had introduced myself as an ex-secondary school teacher.’

      I got a good laugh at that line. I remembered how small a few of my classrooms were when I was going to school, yet we had so many students stuffed in them. But you brought up a good point about some skills from one profession being transferrable to another profession, even if the professions are different. Hiring managers tend not to consider that. I can’t fault them for having their own criteria for hiring, it’s their workplace. It just shuts out those people who could be working with little or no transistion time required.

      Thanks for repying

  2. First, a belated Happy Simcoe Day! Seems I never get my Simcoe Day cards out in the post on time. 😉

    Second, grrrrrrr sometimes it seems like jobs on unfilled because the hiring managers aren’t looking for qualified employees, they’re looking for the perfect candidate. Maybe it’s a symptom of the current economy, staff is stretched to the breaking point, so filling an opening with someone who needs absolutely no training means when their search is over, they can just get back to their own job, and not have to train someone.

    It’s crazy. It’s counter-intuitive. I’m willing to bet that you’d be an expert on the register within an hour, but the manager’s unwillingness to even invest an hour of their time speaks volumes. I see similar things in many of the job listings I weed through: looking for years of experience on specific pieces of software, general knowledge of concepts need not apply. It’s like they see their business as a speeding train that they are trying to drop you the cog into at full speed. It’s unrealistic, but unfortunately very common.

    1. I think you hit it right there with the point about staff being asked to do more for less. The managers do not want to take an employee off the front line to “hand-hold” (their interpretation, not mine) a newcomer, since that employee not only has his or her work to do but perhaps is covering someone else. In fact, it reminds me of a situation back in the early 1990’s. I was working temporary gigs and was told by my assignment handler that the moment I arrive at my assignment, someone would shadow me for the first day to make sure I got things right. Apparently the client had misunderstood and thought I would hit the ground running with the skills required to handle their propriatary software for data entry. The times change but history seems to repeat itself.

      Thanks for your comments!

  3. Thanks for reading! I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I have been thinking about this topic for a while and your post was just what I needed to get my thoughts down. I’m considering volunteering at charity shops to get that cash register experience… maybe you could try this too? I think working for free is the only “in” for now…

    1. Hi Eleanor

      The volunteer and charity option was considered during Year One of my job search. There were two reasons that stopped me from going that route. The first one was I invest between 6 and 8 hours a day (starting at 7:15 in the morning) looking for work. It’s almost like a real job in itself: I even have a 30 minute lunch break. Sometimes I will log on at night to send off the odd resume or two if I see something on Indeed or the Craigslist and Kijiji ads. With that investment of time, it would be impossible to do any sort of volunteer work, especially since I need to monitor any phone calls or Emails for potential interviews calls.

      Also, I polled a few of my friends and co-workers from the past about the value of volunteering being helpful in a jobsearch, and while my results are not considered scientific, the conclusion reached was it did not produce results proportional to the time spent volunteering. One person said to me, quoted as best as I can remember, “if I spent my time actually looking for work instead of working for free, I would have found a job sooner!”

      Volunteering, like any tool used in a job search, will work for some, but not for everyone. I do hope volunteering will help you, though!

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