Work Experience Matters

By on September 5, 2013
Work Experience Matters

As I fast approach being officially classified as middle age, I am encouraged by the recent key finding and validation from our recent regional employer survey. That is that work experience matters.

This key finding is from the 2013 State of St. Louis Workforce report that our division, the Workforce Solutions Group, has conducted for five consecutive years. It emerged from both the employer survey component as well as from the in-depth executive interviews conducted with six area employers. Work experience matters and it really matters for low-skilled, entry-level positions.

There is much anecdotal evidence, as well as reviews of online job announcements, that experienced workers hold a decisive advantage in obtaining employment. For the first time, the annual State of St. Louis Workforce survey attempted to validate this.

Employer Survey

1,200 employers were asked “When making a hiring decision for an open position, how would you evaluate a new graduate with the latest academic technique/skills training but no experience in the field versus an applicant with extensive experience in the field (5-10 years) but lacking the most recent academic technique/skills training?

Nearly one half of employers responding indicated that they would favor the experienced applicant. About one-third indicated that they would favor both candidates equally while only about one in ten responded that they would favor the new graduate.

New Graduate vs. Experience

Executive Interviews with Employers

The six companies involved in the executive interviews represented a variety of industries, companies ranging from less than 100 to those with 30,000 employees, as well as a wide spectrum of organizational scope and culture from entrepreneurial start-ups with flat streamlined cultures to well established companies with significant organizational hierarchal structures.

All of the six uniquely different companies interviewed, stressed that they are seeking individuals with a solid work history. Where appropriate for more advanced positions, the companies interviewed stated that a college degree certainly was valued but still stressed that a combination of experience and educational credentials was always preferred.

“Experience trumps everything, including the degree and the educational background. Applicants are dismissed from the pool if they do not have the appropriate certification (or can’t acquire the appropriate certifications). When searching for new talent, Edward Jones relies heavily on referrals and recruits experienced people.” Edward Jones

“Depending on the position, educational level and experience play different roles; however experience in an airport environment carries significant value.” St. Louis Airport Authority.

“We don’t have a lot of employees so when we hire someone we need to know that they have the necessary experience and a solid work history. We need people who are self-confident, have respect for themselves and respect the fact that they are being paid to do a good job.” Precision Prototyping & Manufacturing

Other shared threads between the survey and interviews included:

  • Although the executive interviews did not specifically focus on the need for soft skills, the employers interviewed repeatedly discussed the value of such skills. This finding is consistent with the interview results of 2012. The following skills were listed as critically important by all employers:
    • Communication and interpersonal skills
    • Teamwork and collaboration
    • Collaboration
    • Adaptability
    • Willingness/ability to learn new things
    • Critical thinking/problem solving
    • Professional and mature work ethic
  • Given the current supply of workers, the employers interviewed expect interview finalists to fill their needs for “competent employees.” An employee that is technically competent and has strong soft skills which all believed would make them more likely to reach their full potential and contribute more to their organization. This theory is once again supported by findings from the current set of employer interviews.

If you want to learn more about the results of the employer survey or the executive interviews, visit to download the 4-page infographic summary or the full report. You can also view videos of leader’s reactions to research and much more on the St. Louis Workforce blog.

As for me, I am going to continue to build upon my strong work experience and reaching my full potential and beyond in my middle age.

About Shayna Howell

Shayna was the Client Development Manager in the Workforce Solutions Group of St Louis Community College. She has over 20 years of experience in the Community College system in training and development, project management, program/course development, grant writing/administration and marketing.

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