Yes You Can Do The Job!
Posted by: Paul Nichols
25 Feb 2012
Some conversations I’ve been in recently have sparked that inner fury. That inner ARRRGGHHHHHHH upon hearing people make the same mistake over and over again. Let me give the lesson, then I’ll go into it deeper:
Please do not confuse “not knowing anything” with “not being able to do the job.”
What set me off? I was reading one of those ever-so-interesting gambling articles on ESPN.com comparing sharps and the public. Sharps are the guys who know stuff about gambling, and take into account how the un-educated public bets when setting lines, or when betting themselves. I’m not opposed to the notion that there are folks who know more about a subject than someone else. What I’m opposed to is the notion that this knowledge makes the bearer forever more capable (usually defined as 'better") than the person who does not know.
Why do I care about this so much?
This plays out for all those new recruits coming out of college who “don’t know anything” and therefore aren’t hired because they “can’t do the job.” Then how does anyone ever get hired in any job?
Folks who do those studies that are always quoted in well-written articles (that I'm too lazy to look up and link to in this not-well-written article) have, not coincidentally, done a study on this. They say that the most important indicator of future job success is the desire to do a good job. That desire is intrinsic. Nothing to do so much with what you know right now, but what you're willing to learn.
Unfortunately, other folks have done a study (insert imaginary link here), and what they show is that the most important indicator of job success is having done the job before, or what you've already learned.
Alright, so how do we reconcile these two notions? Which is better in the job market--what you already know (experience) or what you will know (desire)?
Well, I think we need to apply a filter. And the filter I choose to apply is "how important is this job, really, in the big scheme of things?" Since most jobs really aren't of the life-or-death variety, I say that desire wins this debate. Let me explain.
Knowing things is important. Being smart is important. That includes knowing the history and policy debates related to a subject. A newbie or greenhorn will not know this stuff. But how much of any job does this comprise? 20% on average? So how much of a job comprises repetitive tasks? 80%? The classic 80-20 disparity?
If 80% of a job is repetition, experience is just not as important as desire.
And who better for repetitive tasks than recent college grads? Old hats in a job need to take them under their wings and teach them nuance, how the policy affects the job, and what historical components of the job are important to know.
Don't get me wrong, if you want to hire a carpenter, previous job experience will trump the "go get 'em" attitude all day long. Same with engineering. If you want a job in those fields, you'd better study those fields. But most jobs aren't in those fields. Think of the about 2 million federal jobs. How many of those actually require specialized skills (actual imaginary link)?
Your standard liberal arts degree that teaches you how to analyze problems, appreciate others, and realize that the world is a complicated place will do just fine. Especially since, when combined with your ability to type 80 words per minute that you learned playing online games, you'll be twice as fast as the old timers in those repetitive tasks, anyway.
If you agree with me on this, then the appropriate conclusion is that we need a better system for determining who to hire. But how does one measure desire? The fire in the interviewee's eye? I'm not sure how to do it. And neither are HR-types, so we keep hiring based on job knowledge, skills, and abilities.
In the meantime, we need not fear that Baby Boomers will retire and take all their institutional knowledge. We'll be able to do the job.
Then again, what do I know?