It is common today to get skill endorsements on LinkedIn. Have you ever received one and cringed because, even though you have spent some time on that skill a true assessment would still mark you as a novice? For instance, I have owned and played my guitar for almost 15 years, but can only mark myself as an Advanced Beginner (maybe close to Competent) using the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition. But, saying I have been playing for 15 years can be misleading and doesn’t highlight the fact that I have played my guitar on and off and that my dexterity on it hasn’t changed much in the last 5 years. I can claim exposure, but how much in experience?
So, what does it mean then when we say we have experience? Is your inclination to look down on a candidate who claims 6 months experience on a skill vs another with 5 years? Andy Hunt in his book Pragmatic thinking & Learning: Refactor Your Wetware, described experience as a change in thinking that results from performing a skill. Can someone who still relies heavily on detailed instructions to perform a skill really claim to have competence in that skill even if they have been at it for a decade? A claim of ‘little’ experience seems more appropriate. However, no skill endorsement or resume will point this out.
I should clarify that when I speak of experience I mean competence, proficiency or expertise. Such experience is a byproduct of discovery and doing. The ability to observe feedback in learning and self correct. It is hard to gauge how long it will take one to get this level of experience since it depends on the degree of exposure, self application and the complexity of the skill itself.
However, I believe we can use these fundamental elements of discovery and learning to evaluate experience in ourselves or a job candidate. Are there learnings through mistakes and challenges, while persisting to produce results? It shouldn’t matter if this sort of education is formal or informal. The crux of it really is discovery, learning and improving through doing. The more of that, the more experienced I would say they are. This is more valuable than simply evaluating based on time spent on a skill.
There are a few things you can do to consciously deepen experience and develop more intuition in a skill. Outside of the more obvious approach of having a mentor and practice, you need to
- Keep poking the box (asking questions, exploring the edges and trying different things) for more discoveries
- Articulate what is learned from each mistake or failure
- Act on those key learnings for improvement
How do you evaluate experience in yourself and others?