Back to the Basics #7: Experience Trumps Education

Back to BasicsContinuing my series on forgetting the complicated things of life and reconnecting with what is important, we’re going to discuss the importance of experience. Right off, though, I want to make it clear that I’m not advocating slacking off in school or not going to college in exchange for a job right out of high school. An education is a tool. It especially opens doors that are not accessible to those with only experience. In over two years at my current place of work, I have only seen 2 or 3 jobs out of maybe 150 posted that did not require a 4-year degree and some experience in the field.

On with the topic, then.

Success or FailureIn my office, I have a set of rules that I try to abide by and evangelize them to the others. It has worked so far, at least with those who are willing to listen to advice.

  1. If you don’t know something, ask before you waste time or screw something up.
  2. When you ask something or seek advice, follow the instructions or abide by the guidance given.
  3. When you encounter a similar issue, apply the past knowledge to the issue at hand.
  4. When you gain enough experience, pass that knowledge on to new people.

Sounds simple, right? That’s because it is. People are messing these up time and time again, often to their own demise in the company. When a company hires temp-to-permanent, the first 90 days are a trial run. If you mess up bad enough, you’re out before you get your cube decorated.

If you don’t know something, ask before you waste time or screw something up.

Rule #1 is a dead give-away to one’s teachability. If you are too prideful to ask for help or too dim to realize that you need help, you are in for a rough ride in life. Get experience or education to fix that problem before you can concentrate on Rule #2.

When you ask something or seek advice, follow the instructions or abide by the guidance given.

Rule #2 is the easiest one I have, because it takes no cerebral horsepower at all to achieve perfection. Get instructions. Follow them. Any questions?

When you encounter a similar issue, apply the past knowledge to the issue at hand.

Rule #3 is much tougher, and where many inexperienced people mess up. It is a skill that gets easier as time goes on or as you move from job to job or responsibility to responsibility. It takes work and dedication to fully absorb your previous encounters with problems to gather the full scope of what transpired and how that relates to right now.

When you gain enough experience, pass that knowledge on to new people.

Pay it forward. Rule #4 is about becoming an invaluable member of your team by taking the load off the people who trained you (unless that is specifically their job) by fielding questions from others. I may be a gruff pain in the butt at times to people who don’t learn, but I will bend over backwards to help people who come to me with new questions early and often in order to do their work, even if they are from another department. That is one of the advantages of getting certified in a skill set. It captures both education and experience into one package that is highly visible (maybe that has more to do with the big sign I have saying I’m a Master Microsoft Office Specialist… maybe).

Above and beyond these rules is a master rule for those who are educated: a degree doesn’t mean you know how to function at work. It doesn’t matter if you are a construction worker, teacher, office assistant, or manager. If you don’t have experience with that environment or those skills in real conditions, you only have knowledge to keep you afloat. You are still going to ask a bunch of questions. If you aren’t you are breaking a rule (see above).

The moment you think you know enough to toss wise counsel to the wind just because you can put some initials at the end of your name on your business card or e-mail signature, you are opening up a whole can of worms. You don’t want that kind of attention, trust me. I’ve seen it, and it’s not pretty what follows after. Not only does that create bad decisions, it fuels contention with those who are more experienced and are being avoided or ignored when it comes to getting help. It burns bridges – FAST. Fifteen year veterans can lose respect in a matter of weeks, even with forgiveness and one-on-one help with a good manager. A year of good work and effort can be wiped out and create alienation and open hostility in days if their attitude is bad enough.

What can you do about all that negativity? Go back to those 4 Rules. Read them. Memorize them. Live them.

I have over 10 years of consulting experience and backgrounds in several fields before settling down where I am now. I am currently the point man for all things formatting and graphics-related in my location of over 400 engineers and other staff. I did not learn this from a book, but experience.