The Desk

October 22, 2017

Screening: How Much Experience

It’s an awakening time – again. But this time in another area.

Mistake One: Need-based Promotion

The first awakening was in the mid 1980s when I was a supervisor saddled with several rather mindless tasks that were also time consuming. One of them could be easily delegated. The receptionist wanted to grow out of her position and into something more responsible. She politicked. She told me about her endeavors in paralegal self study and how much she was reading. It seemed putting her into that administrative role could be helpful to both her and me as well as do the firm a service. I petitioned my supervising attorney who asked me to create a job description. He cautioned that her training and supervision was my responsibility. Accepted.

Her job description was written. It was given to her and she liked it. She accepted it. I thought she was doing well because her questions became scarce and she seemed busy. I was mistaken.

I was also responsible for training the securities paralegal and our new lawyers on handling corporate matters, especially forming a corporation. In the long run, I learned the receptionist who became the keeper of the library of corporate kits, was going to the securities paralegal (a 25-year-old, chauvinistic Bostonian man) for guidance and knowledge and then began considering him as her supervisor. She forgot that she reported to me. He felt he was superior to me and he had the support of a very popular securities lawyer.

Knowledge based on training

There were many issues that brewed in the office. So many that I forgot to monitor the growth of the corporate kit keeper’s knowledge and the depth of it. I should have kept better track of her work – even though there were many times when I found myself needing to work deal miracles. Perhaps I should have done a better job of teaching her new aspects of the work. But I definitely needed to help her realize that merely reading the book was not the same as being qualified to do the work. Perhaps more of an open-door policy with regard to learning opportunities would have resulted in a better outcome.

Doomed Destiny

There were other ethical issues that plagued all of the offices of that firm. The writing was on the walls and there were no erasers. The practices fed on themselves. One example was the lateral hire who was being interviewed from one office to another while carrying his plate lunch with him. Interviews continued as the firm’s convulsed its way toward its demise. Prudence dictated that interviewing stop, but it didn’t.

I was able to get out several months ahead of the collapse. Like a scorpion, the firm killed itself. But the collapse was because of the practices of many of the lawyers. There was also too much competitiveness and too many hidden agendas. There was also an enormous number of those who (like me with the corporate kit keeper) shirked their responsibilities in deference to billable hours and trying to hold down the fort.

We all should have been paying attention to the most important things. We should have been screening for experience and had a willingness to train if there was budget to do so.

Translatable Lessons

Screening for experience is something we do in many professions. The plumber brings their apprentice with them in order to train the learner about the proper way to use their tools and to identify what the issue is. The apprentice is not set loose on a project with no supervision until the trainer is certain of the skill that is going to be applied to the job.

The learner has seen the right way to do things. The conditions are explained to them. Also explained are the consequences and outcomes of taking a wrong step or making a bad turn. Terminology is explained so that both the learner and the teacher are conversing about the same thing. In that way, they can adequately talk to the client about the job, provide an estimate, form a contract for services, and then complete the job so that the bill is paid. Communication is a very critical element in screening.

Examples

How much experience does this potential worker have? Where are their references or testimonials? How many similar projects of this type have they done? Is this the first one? (Maybe they’re a volunteer who’s in transition and building a new portfolio.) Perhaps they have lateral experience that translates to what is needed for the job that’s open. Find out. Evaluate. Have them explain why this is a valid example of the type of work that can be expected from them. At the same time, you’ll be able to evaluate their ability to communicate, comprehend instructions, convey their appreciation and assessment of a situation, and depth of knowledge.

If they’ve merely been reading a book or simply talking (networking) with others in their target career option, that doesn’t necessarily mean they have the qualifications to be considered anything more than a newcomer.

Careful Evaluation

It’s one thing to read the book. That exercise provides the foundation for the knowledge. There’s more to learning than the mere visual intake of words. Learning comes in three ways: visual, auditory, and manual. Some people learn by using only one of those modalities. Others use two, and still other learners require all three.

Cementing the knowledge means actually using it. It’s best to practice the discipline before attempting to execute in the real environment. That’s why athletes and musicians practice and do drills. That why actors rehearse and block scenes. It’s why doctors and lawyers go through various stages of preparing for their discipline and developing their body of knowledge.

The motivation for getting into that career path and opportunity is evidenced by not just the portfolio of past accomplishments. That shows a history of experience. And that experience could have met with unexpected detours and interruptions. But the focused endeavors to practice the craft, science, art will have examples and work product. Where can those be found? If they’ve been deleted by some unethical hand, it’s a loss for everyone except those who actually saw or experienced it and can attest to its value. Another witness to experience is how well the candidate can discuss the project in detail. Perhaps there were no external evaluations that contained constructive critiques. Then evaluate how well the candidate did a self assessment and grew from that self counseling.

The amount of experience a person has is also evidenced in whether they’re capable of coming up with adaptations. Whether they’re successful or not is not the initial consideration as much as they have sufficient appreciation of the circumstances to enable them to come up with alternative methods of attack in order to reach the desired goal – ethically. It’s because they have a deep appreciation of the foundation principles that they will be able to identify a reasonable facsimile or substitute if the proper tool simply isn’t in the toolbox. They’re almost like MacGyver. Even if there are no longer work samples available, the knowledge (even long unused) is still there to benefit those who need and want it.

Enhancements, such as continuing education or next grade level training, will make the candidate even more valuable. Age is not so much a factor as is adaptability and depth of knowledge, as ability to move with change – or cause it because of that underlying experience.

Also keep in mind that now that we are a global society, we still use different terms (or labels) for things depending on where we are. What is call “The Plough” in the United Kingdom is known as Ursa Major elsewhere. So it’s important that the terminology or jargon is matching up between the parties.

How Much Experience Do You Have?

It would be nice to find credibility and proof of ability on the store shelf. Unfortunately, it takes time and practice to properly evaluate a candidate. Application of knowledge in projects directly related to the present goal or indirectly via a similar or lateral endeavor can prove to have enduring benefits. Repeated practice, with successes, build on the portfolio. Sending your employees off to a training and then never having them put into practice what they learned at the training is money thrown out the window three times over. There was the cost of the training, the cost of the personnel who covered the absence, and the wages paid while the employee was attending the training but left with no way to use it. Make that thrown out the window four times.

I’m not certain how a candidate can adequately convey knowledge and experience gained from being in the trenches. That type of insight provides a very deep awareness and appreciation of what the customer/audience wants and needs. It also gives a deeper appreciation of why one tactic will work compared with what the textbook said. Being in the trenches gives the practitioner more genuineness. When you pull out of the trenches, the landscape may still look the way it did when you entered it. But there have been changes on both sides of the picture.

Epiphanies

Incidentally, I’m finally about to embark on a long delayed step in my professional endeavors (which has spawned some of this writing). The handouts for a talk I’m doing later this month will be created as digital content. I’m learning about creating and publishing an ebook. The simple act of talking about “front matter” became a six-hour exercise of following instructions based on old technology and obsolete protocols. The updated information is now available. Meanwhile, there’s been searching for what was discussed under the old protocols. There’s been applying the principles to test runs. And there’s been time to recognize distractions and time management issues – in addition to the need for trial runs.

The term “front matter” is not the same in every genre. Which brings me back to terminology and jargon. Make certain you’re talking about the same thing as the experience is being discussed or described. Also be certain of what is considered proficient and standard in that part of the world compared with where the work is to be performed. Avoid throwing out the proverbial baby.

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