Explaining the value of your experience

John Warhurst’s article on whether our political leaders have the necessary experience to be Prime Minister prompts exploring whether more experience for any role is a useful attribute. And how much experience do you need to take on a new role?

Warhurst, Emeritus Professor of Political Science at ANU, refers to George Megalogenis’ view that neither leader has sufficient experience if you apply John Howard’s 20-year parliamentary experience rule. He then goes on to make a case for why this rule is inadequate.

Warhust mentions successful Prime Ministers with less than 20 years, and less successful ones with more. He makes a case for specifying a certain type of experience: Parliamentary experience is valuable, but alone is not enough. Ministerial experience is better than long years in Opposition. He also makes a case for considering life experience – prior community and professional experience. Plus, there are downsides to long experience in one field. Better to be at your peak to take on a new role.

What does this suggest for job applicants?

In making a case for a job one immediate strength that comes to mind is time in a role. It could be four years, ten years, or more. But what is the value of this experience? Is the person with ten years automatically more qualified than the one with four? If the ten years have been spent doing much the same set of tasks – one year ten times – then this has little to offer compared to the person who has four years of various achievements and valuable contributions. It’s not the length of time that is important. It’s the nature of the experience, what learning it provided and what you contributed. Just as ministerial, community and professional experience are more useful to an aspiring PM than just parliamentary experience, so a person whose combined experience provides a range of relevant knowledge, skill development, understanding and results is more valuable than unvarying, long experience.

So when making a case for a role, however short your experience, consider:

  • What you have learnt from that experience in terms of issues, trends, processes, procedures, policies.
  • What skills and knowledge you have developed.
  • What contributions you have made, results you have delivered.
  • How this experience, combined with other experience, positions you as a strong candidate, from the employer’s perspective.
Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.