Acronym Experience Required

Every now and again I look at Clancy’s hospital’s employment page. It’s unlikely that I would actually get a job there, but it’s a source of interest all the same. They recently had a job posting for a Health Information Specialist, which is basically an IT job with an information processing focus. What jumped out at me were the job requirements. Namely, that it listed a need for experience for Acronym Software. I had to look up what the acronym meant, because it was news to me. It turned out, they wanted experience in the precise medical records software they are using. Really obscure software. Software that is actually so bad that they are going to be retiring it next year after a petition made its way around the office. But they only want candidates who have used this.

Now, it doesn’t make all that much difference to me. The alternative to knowing the software already is having to train someone, and they’re not going to train someone that they know is going to be gone next year. So even if I were to apply, I’d be out of consideration either way. And I guess I see why you wouldn’t want to train someone in software that you’re going to retire anyway, thus wanting prior experience. Even so, this is all such short-balling that I find it quite aggravating. It’s something I have long considered to be a part of the larger problem of employers being unwilling to train employees. I’ve become increasingly hesitant to talk about this because it actually contradicts my professional experience, where after each move (until the current one) I found a job that required training. Yet even then, I remember at one point they ramped up the requirements such that I was no longer qualified for a position I’d held for over a year before being promoted out of.

Anyhow, I thought about that when I read Dave Schuler’s post on the reverse-side of our employment problem: the inability of employers to find the right people. The first thought that comes to mind is that they’re not offering enough money, but it looks to me like acronym requirements may actually be playing a larger role:

I recommend that your read the post in full but I’ll summarize it quickly. Roughly 10% of employers aren’t willing to pay what prospective employees demand. More than half of the employers report that they can’t find candidates with the necessary skills, experience, or inter-personal skills and there is some evidence to suggest that experience is the most important of these factors. Although once again I am reminded of the help wanted ad I saw in 1982: “IBM PC Expert Wanted; Must Have 5 Years Experience” (the IBM PC was introduced in 1981—not even the people who designed it had five years of experience with it).

With my generation, it was experience with Java longer than Java had been around. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

When I went to college, one of the things that they impressed upon me was that the work world was “each man (or woman) for himself (or herself)” and that nobody was going to stick around with employers forever and no employer was going to show any loyalty to its employees. This has a certain logic and efficiency to it. But it also comes at a significant cost, and the oft-cited cost (employee job insecurity) is only a part of it. On the employer side, churn causes a loss in accumulated tribal knowledge. Chances are, if I leave one company for another company, the company I am leaving actually lost more than the company I am going to is gaining. There are advantages to having new people coming in with new ideas and all of that, but the company I left has to train the next guy to know all that I knew, and the company I am going to has to train me on all of the things the guy I am replacing knew (if I’m replacing anybody). I’m sure that somewhere there is a perfect equilibrium between “new blood” and continuity, though the tilt has gone from from too far in one direction to too far in another.

One of the bigger costs, though, is that when an employee might leave at any given moment, it doesn’t pay to train them. Or to have to train them as little as possible. Now, it’s been my experience that employers are far too unconcerned with churn, accepting it as a fact of life as though there is nothing that can be done about it. But even if I had my way, where you try to hire people at the ground level and then raise them up to where they fit best as quickly as possible, there is little more reason to expect employee loyalty than there is to expect employer loyalty. So we have a stand-off. Nobody trusts anybody, employees are inclined to take their experience and leave, employers become demanding that they have to invest as little as possible in new employees. I don’t know how you break this cycle.

(None of this excuses Clancy’s employer. Hire someone who lives in Callie and likes it here, there are not many places for them to go with their Health Information Specialist training.)

[Cross-posted from Hit Coffee]

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. One argument I’ve seen is that everybody lies on their resume… so every job requirement is equally exaggerated.

    Job Requirement: Electrical Engineer
    Job Description: Unscrewing lightbulbs, screwing lightbulbs in, unplugging electronics, plugging electronics in…

    • It would be an interesting experiment to invent an acronym, insist on 5 years experience with it, and see how many applicants claim to be experts.

        • I was on a phone interview a couple years ago, part of which went:

          “What’s your experience with ozjee?”

          “Im sorry, can you say that again?”

          “What’s your experience with ozjee?”

          “I’ve never heard of ‘ozjee’.”

          “OK. Moving on …”

          It turned out that he was asking about “OSGI”, which I’d only heard pronounced as “oh-ess-jee-eye”. Though since my full experience was reading about it and thinking it sounded really complicated, little harm was done.

          • .png (pong, not ping).
            despite the rant on it’s website. 😉

    • You know, I’ve thought of that before. Yet Schuler’s article suggests these jobs are going unfilled altogether. So “shoot for the stars then see who shows up” doesn’t seem to be working.

      • The problem is that while they might be shooting for the stars, they’re firing a twenty-two pistol. As I’ve mentioned before, you dig down in all these “there’s no employment crisis, here’s some employers who are begging for qualified people” and it turns out that the begging employers are offering positions for crappy jobs with a twenty-percent pay cut and no relocation benefits. Some guy looking at an underwater mortgage and two kids in grade school isn’t going to pay to move himself and his family to Nowheresville, Idaho to get piecework rates for software QA.

        • If it were primarily a matter of pay, the employers would be citing salary requirements as the roadblock, but instead they are citing experience. It could be that they’re not getting experienced applicants because of posted salary ranges, but in my experience they post pretty broad ranges of salary and when I see them posted the salary range rarely seems as unreasonable as the requirements. The salary range for the job at Clancy’s hospital was actually reasonably generous if it weren’t for the fact that they wanted someone with experience in obscure software.

          • Of course, broadly speaking the two are not unrelated so maybe there is less disagreement to the eye. With an even more generous financial package, maybe they actually could find someone from Boston who knows the software and is willing to move. Seems to me the better route is just to accept that you’re going to need to train somebody.

          • I think it’s laziness. It’s much easier to put together a list of check-off items than to distinguish good employees from bad ones.

          • yeah, and it’s *annoying as heck* when they won’t say something like “choose three” — Must Know Perl, C, D, Tcl, Ml, Java

            you’ve all seen those job listings.

          • I’ve mentioned this before, but the one that drove me *really* crazy was a very long posting on that would come and go that talked about a job that sounded great and that paid enough to be worth my while. At the end, they would tack on “Must speak fluent Portuguese.”

            Now, if you’re doing a lot of business with Brazile or Portugal, which I assume this was, that’s going to be a non-negotiable qualification. But dear heaven, but it at the beginning of the job posting. Or better yet, in the title.

          • Eh, that one is a technique to comply with outsourcing laws.

            You have to prove that no one in the US who is qualified has applied… then you can outsource the position.

          • As Jaybird says, a decent number of employment classifieds that appear unreasonable are in fact intended to be unreasonable because they’re posted to comply with labor certification requirements. USCIS requires that you can document having posted the job for some period of time, and document why the various candidates were unsuitable before you can use the job description for someone applying for a green card or H1 visa. Employers will usually find the person they want to hire, then figure out precisely what combination of skills that person has that no-one else has and then advertise the job with all of them listed as pre-requisites. Only one person need apply. Although obviously this defeats the supposed purpose of labor certification, labor certification is a ridiculous farce for anything other than entry level positions anyway. Most employers only apply for visas for people with fairly unique skills to begin with – after all, if you just want entry level grunts, they can stay in Bangalore where they cost less.

            Some employers also have similar requirements for internal promotions – the job has to be advertise to external candidates. So the hiring manager posts the job with “must be named Bob and have worked here for 5 years” as requirements

          • Jaybird, maybe, but they’re wasting my time, dangit. It actually reached the point where I skipped over that headhunter agency’s listings altogether.

            Simon, governments here are generally required to do that. Hilariously, my alma mater had to put an ad for its football coach in the paper even though it was quite clear that they had their candidates lined up. My father (who worked for the federal government) has mentioned the same thing. If you already have a candidate in mind, I don’t mind outlandish job requirements because that beats leading people on to send their applications in to a job that’s already closed. But when you’re the employers mentioned in the post and you can’t find workers who meet your qualifications, you need to rethink your qualifications.

            Or we have a systems problems.

          • There are outsourcing laws? How the hell do those work?

          • I’ll give an example from the local Cheyenne Mountain Resort (I have a friend who used to manage there):

            For peak times, they could not hire enough housekeeping staff. Summer resort boom times, that sort of thing. People whose job it was to toss rooms, tend plants, etc. So they would want to hire folks from, for example, Jamaica.

            Prior to hiring from Jamaica, however, they had to post “help wanted” ads in the local newspaper and interview every American who applied. I am told that they hired a bunch of folks… and then people would no-show on day 2 or day 3. People would show up drunk. Stoned. Even taking those folks into account, they *STILL* couldn’t hire enough folks to toss beds and tend plants and whatnot.

            After they could demonstrate to the government’s satisfaction that they could not hire enough Americans to do the job, they were allowed to send folks to Jamaica to hire Housekeeping.

            Now just extrapolate that same process up to skilled labor and imagine a management more than willing to game the system.

          • Offshore outsourcing is somewhat easier.

            All you have to do is build a building over there, hire people, then lay off people here. (Some campaign donations are helpful.)

            No B.S. required.

          • Please pardon my ignorance, but a company has to demonstrate that they’ve exhausted their search for American workers before they can hire foreign workers? Holy crap!

          • Kazzy, to get an idea, you can google “Employ American Workers Act”… the EAWA applies specifically to banks, but I believe that there are similar requirements across the board and there were at least some requirements before the EAWA. The idea is to prevent corporations from importing talent (which is often willing to work cheaper) when there is domestic talent available.

            There are a lot of people who believe in a corporate conspiracy to diminish wages and salary by bringing in foreigners willing to work for cheap. I’m not among them, though I am at times concerned that this can be used to get the guy that has the precise training needed for a (for instance) development job to minimize any on-the-job training. Of course, as this post demonstrates, I am concerned about this corporate mentality with or without work visa availability.

  2. “IBM PC Expert Wanted; Must Have 5 Years Experience” (the IBM PC was introduced in 1981—not even the people who designed it had five years of experience with it).

    That kind of thing isn’t even unusual.

    • It’s probably more position-request shorthand than anything else. “5 years experience” is code for “already trained”.

  3. It’s a combination of laziness on HR’s part and cluelessness on manager’s part combined with the vastly wider employment net you can cast. (There’s also shades of “We want to hire internally, but we have to open it to the outside” or “We want to hire foreign nationals, but we have to pretend to look here first” — but I think it’s more cluelessness.

    Of course, I’m a software engineer. (And I forwent higher salaries for a field where I had more job security. I’ve actually got 15 years with the company, even though I’m now on my third or fourth company. The fun of subcontracting).

    But when my last contract was up and a TON of us were looking for jobs (I got lucky and moved internally), I was faced with ludicrously narrow hiring requirements. (Experience with X, Y, Z with X, Y, Z experience — in short, they wanted a clone of their last guy. Exactly. For less money, of course). And the interviews? Were WORSE.

    With a handful of exceptions, I suffered through things like “Explain basic [insert programming concept here]” to HR secretaries transcribing what I said to, hopefully, be seen by someone else later. (And I’ll tell you this, it’s hard NOT to dumb down technical concepts when you know you’re talking to someone who doesn’t understand them).

    There was the fun IQ test I drove across town to take — I was told it was an aptitude test. It was an IQ test. Not a bit of it focused on ANYTHING related to the job, and as it turned out it was a pre-screen by company contracted to fill positions. Pointless.

    Amazon’s was actually good — I got interviewed (over the phone) by a real developer/lead, and we talked shop. I flubbed it badly — it was my second real interview in a decade and the position was a stretch for my skills! — but I have no doubt it led to a hiring someone who at least could talk competently about the subject matter. (And it was good practice for my internal hire. I did have to interview for that.)

    Headhunters were WORSE. They’d try to get me to interview with jobs where I didn’t have a SINGLE damn skill on the list, and ignore ones where there was great overlap. They were obviously doing key-word matching without a clue what the words meant. (And these were the guys hired because HR was apparently too bad at it or too small to do it right! Talk about a waste!).

    I got sent to one interview that I had in the bag, but the more I learned about the company through the last interview, the less I wanted to work there. I added 20% to my minimal salary requirements after that and was unsurprised to hear they decided to go another way.

    It was VERY obviously: “We had this internal system developed. Then we fired the people that did it and contracted out maintaince to a third party. Now it needs upgrading/fixing, and we have a new manager, so we’re firing the third party and hiring three people to do it. And when we’re done, we TOTALLY promise not to fire you and replace you with a cheaper third party. Also, the day you’re hired we’re firing the consultants and they’re not going to give us any documentation, we’ve lost most of what we originally had, and we’re not worried that NO ONE LIVING INCLUDING YOU knows one of the programming languages this was written in.

    That had CF written all over it. Later I actually met a few people that worked there, and the company had a repuation for screwing it’s workforce over pretty hard. I felt vindicated.

    Coming back to the point: In technical fields, if the actual folks doing the job aren’t part of the screening process — the results are just total catastrophe. It’s pointless buzzwords, experience terms, and a mish-mash of idiocy. The screeners don’t have the background to know when experience in X translates to experience in Y, nobody wants to train anyone, and nobody wants to pay for relocation.

    So you get things like “Needs 10 years C++ experience” and turning down people with 8 years of Java and 5 years of C+”, or turning down people with a decade of web development experience under their belt because you want 10 years with .NET (even though it’s not that old and ASP sucked!), or you want a guy with “experience scripting” but don’t recognize PERL as applicable.

    Applicants are pretty crap too. Everyone lies on their resumes, on the requirements, on their experience…something I’m not comfortable with. I just feel bad padding my resume at all, and I tend not to apply for jobs with strict requirements because deep down I can’t fathom anyone would get that detailed on a requirement and NOT MEAN IT.

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