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Tim Cynova Post by Tim Cynova

By Tim Cynova on November 16th, 2017

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Nix the Education/Experience Proxy

Big Ideas | How We Work | Arts | People Operations | Human Resources

The Education/Experience Proxy is what I call the phrase organizations include near the end of their job postings: “High School Diploma Required,” “Bachelor Degree Required,” or “Masters Degree Preferred.” Please nix it. It’s a lazy proxy used to approximate experience or ability that’s making it harder for otherwise talented people to be a part of your candidate pool. It neglects people who learn differently, or have different life experience, from being considered for positions.

We certainly don’t need an education/experience proxy in the cultural sector. You might request years of experience doing the work but shouldn’t invoke an experience proxy. Unless you’re a brain surgeon or a nuclear scientist, it seldom matters how much formal education you’ve completed.

It’s what you *do* with the knowledge you’ve acquired during your life that’s important, not the knowledge in and of itself. And no, I don’t buy the blanket, “obtaining one’s diploma demonstrates that they can see a significant, multi-year effort through to completion” argument. Yep, if they’re going to complete another degree than yes, that specific past performance might be indicative of future results. I’ve known plenty of people who did exceedingly well in school only to struggle mightily when they graduated and got a full-time job, and vice versa.

This isn’t a post railing against those who’ve had the opportunity to attend prestigious schools or against formal education itself. This is a post arguing that two 30-year-olds each take their own path in life before they end up across from you in a job interview. One might have completed a Bachelors, Masters, and Doctorate. The other might have worked every position in a marketing agency to gain their expertise, or lived all over the world working on the crew of a shipping vessel, or spent years in a cabin in the Northern reaches of Canada launching and running a successful online business.

It’s one thing to learn and another to be able to apply that learning.

I say that the educational criteria is a lazy proxy because, when we use it, we’re essentially shifting some of our selection burden to an unknown admissions officer and unknown teachers. I’m not saying it isn’t a significant accomplishment to finish high school, or get accepted to college, or graduate with one’s doctorate. I’m saying, that specific experience might not make someone successful in *your* organization and for the role you’re hiring.

I’m not an expert in a lot of things — not even about my passions: the Tour de France, bourbon, and artisanal donuts (well, maybe artisanal donuts) — but I *am* an expert in what it takes for someone to succeed at Fractured Atlas and finding people who will excel here. So why would I outsource this to someone, or some system, who doesn’t understand how 100 ingredients combine to make people successful at Fractured Atlas? And why should you?

The education/experience proxy is a hurdle standing between you and more diverse applicants applying to your company.

Here’s another thing: The education proxy is a hurdle standing between you and more diverse applicants applying to your company. Those who didn’t have certain opportunities shouldn’t be penalized for something that doesn’t matter to their ability to successfully accomplish the work and add value.

As the cultural sector, let’s make a pact right here and now. Let’s be clear about the skills necessary to successfully accomplish the job and nix the proxy criteria that isn’t relevant to people being successful. Diversity of thought and experience make our teams and organizations stronger. Let’s not make it even more challenging to accomplish that. (Search firms, I’m looking at you here too. Companies instinctively include this line in job postings. Please advise clients that the education/experience proxy is unhelpful to their end goals and makes it harder to find great people.)

Don’t mistakenly think the education/experience proxy is going to do the heavy lifting for you. It’s often a bias that causes us to miscalibrate candidates. Let’s get more strategic about our hiring. Putting the work in upfront so we improve the odds of hiring the right person, and lessen the chances we’ll be redoing the search all over in a few months, or banging our heads against the wall for months or, God help you, years trying to figure out why it’s not working out.

Resources to Help

Google’s re:Work site provides tools that can help with unbiasing and also with strategic hiring. They include straight-forward tools that can be implemented relatively fast. There’s also the terrific book, Who: The A Method for Hiring that breaks down, from start to finish, how to structure a strategic hiring process. And lastly (well, “lastly” in this post), Textio helps you draft and edit your job postings to make them more inclusive.

So please, cultural sector, let’s nix the education/experience proxy in our job postings.

More posts by Tim Cynova

About Tim Cynova

Tim spends his time assisting teams and organizations with the things they need to create innovative workplaces where people thrive. He is a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), a trained mediator, on faculty at Banff Centre for Arts & Creativity and New York's The New School teaching courses in Strategic HR and Leadership & Team Building. He is a certified trainer of the Crucial Conversations and What Motivates Me frameworks, and is a firm believer that Work. Shouldn't. Suck. He currently serves as the Chief Operating Officer of Fractured Atlas (where he is a member of the organization’s four-person, non-hierarchical shared leadership team). Prior to that, Tim was the Executive Director of The Parsons Dance Company and of High 5 Tickets to the Arts, had a memorable stint with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, was a one-time classical trombonist, musicologist, and for five years in his youth he delivered newspapers for the Evansville Courier-Press. Also, during a particularly slow summer, he bicycled across the United States.