Calling for N years’ experience? Your PR job ad is risky and bad practice

In around ninety days I hit 50 years old. I’ll wave my metaphorical bat to the pavilion and then settle down to making a century.

What have all these years brought me? A good number of experiences. A reasonable amount of learning. Some skills acquired. Application of the last two in undergoing the first.

Of those years, a lot have been spent in public relations and public affairs.

That’s nice. It makes it much easier for me to hit one of the common recruitment criteria you’ll see, such as these from the CIPR’s job pages:

  • “At least 5 years in a PR position preferably gained with a professional services environment”
  • “3 to 8 years’ experience, with a comprehensive and rounded PR skill set with proven expertise in media relations ideally in a B2B context”
  • “7 years + experience as a marketing professional”
  • “2 years Digital PR experience”

N years’ experience over and again.

It’s easy to understand. Years on the job mean expertise and wisdom, right?

But there’s a problem here. You’re discriminating. And you’re quite possibly discriminating in a way that employment law doesn’t like.

Have a look at this from the ACAS guide, Age and the workplace (pdf), my bolding:

“Avoid references, however oblique, to age in both the job description and the person specification. For example, avoid asking for ‘so many years’ experience. This may rule out younger people who have the skills required but have not had the opportunity to demonstrate them over an extended period. A jobseeker could challenge any time requirement and you may have to justify it in objective terms.

It’s not just ACAS. A simple web search will find you plenty of the same from a lot of employment law firms. (Some of them might be ideal for the candidate who takes you to tribunal!)

I’ve known people shrug their shoulders and say they’ll take the risk, presumably because they see a number of years’ experience as a proxy measure for the expertise they’re looking for.

Not only is this potentially bringing them to the edge of what is legally acceptable, it’s just bad business practice.

There’s evidence that some potential candidates are put off by a criterion they cannot meet. They simply don’t apply, and so you can’t possibly interview them. There’s particular evidence that this is more so with women than men.

Plus it’s not hard to spell out clearly what you’re really looking for – experience of effectively applying skills in particular circumstances. And doing so makes it simpler to mark candidates on how they meet the person specification.

So for your next job advert, think. What is it am I really looking for?

And bear in mind: now you’ve read this you won’t be able to plead ignorance should you end up at tribunal!

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