No experience required for the AMS

AMS services don’t take previous experience into account when hiring staff

Tricolour Outlet, along with all AMS services, hires students with no experience.
Tricolour Outlet, along with all AMS services, hires students with no experience.
Photo: 
Common Ground.
Common Ground.
Photo: 
Justin Reekie said the AMS’ no-experience policy provides opportunities to more students.
Justin Reekie said the AMS’ no-experience policy provides opportunities to more students.
Photo: 

When Maggie Fisher applied to work at Common Ground in first year, she had no previous experience in the food industry.

Fisher, ArtSci ’15, worked at the student coffee shop as a barista during first and second year, and now works at the Tea Room in Beamish-Munro Hall. The only job she ever had before was as a camp counselor.

But since she was applying to an AMS service, that didn’t matter. AMS hiring policy dictates “where two or more applicants are evaluated equally for a position, the position will be granted to the candidate(s) with less prior experience as a full-time AMS employee”.

Fisher said she believes she wouldn’t have been hired without the no-experience-necessary policy.

“The policy is helpful because it gives the people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to get a job a chance at a position,” she said.

The experience of working at CoGro helped her find her job at the Tea Room and a summer job working at a food bank, she added.

To obtain a job in the “real world”, students need employment experience, Fisher said, but they can’t gain experience if no organization will hire them — which can turn into a vicious circle.

According to hiring policy, AMS services are only allowed to rehire 25 per cent of their employees from the previous year — meaning three quarters of each year’s staff will be new.

“The cap of 25 per cent is good, because it allows people to have that experience,” Fisher said, “but what it does is that it really damages the service, especially in September and October.”

From a customer’s perspective, Fisher said the cap could be very damaging to a service like TAPS, which comprises QP and the Underground.

“At the beginning [of the school year], they’re messing up your orders and the service takes forever because nobody knows what they’re doing yet,” she said.

She said that the 25 per cent cutoff forces many previous student employees to find work elsewhere.

“It’s frustrating because people want to be rehired and I know people who count on being rehired because they need a job on campus and they can’t get it, even if they were a great staff member,” she added.

“I think there’s a better way to balance experience and also having a good service.”

Justin Reekie, AMS vice-president of operations, said the 25 per cent cap exists to ensure there are accessible employment options at AMS services for every student.

“It’s the outgoing management team that hires and helps with the evaluation process,” he said. “They could be hiring the same people that they’ve been working with and then you have zero new applicants.”

Reekie, ArtSci ’13, said the AMS’ no-experience policy helps service staff workers ascend to senior management positions, by attaining relevant skills for a higher-level job.

He started his path to vice-president of operations by working at CoGro as a service staffer in 2011-12, before serving as CoGro’s facilities and events manager and as the AMS hospitality and safety services director in ensuing years.

The no-experience policy exists, Reekie said, to provide opportunities for personal growth to as many different students as possible.

Without the policy, he isn’t sure if he would have been initially hired at CoGro.

“I don’t know what my fate would have been,” he said.

Although prior AMS experience isn’t required for service staff, Reekie said the AMS makes up for it with an emphasis on training.

“There are a lot of technical positions that you might not know anything about,” he said. “It’s through the transition process and the learning opportunity that you gain the skills.”

The AMS also encourages managers to critique their employees while they’re on shift to give the service staff constant feedback, Reekie said.

“It’s a constant update of the good and the areas of improvement for every employee to ensure that they’re at their best.”

When interviewing potential AMS service employees, Reekie said, the hiring committee rarely asks specific questions about the service.

“The questions are general enough that anyone would be able to answer without visiting the service,” he said. “You always have to phrase the question to ensure that they’re open to draw on any experience that they have.”

Although experience isn’t taken into account when hiring AMS service employees, it’s considered when service managers are hired.

AMS Human Resources Officer Meg Monteith is in charge of developing hiring questions with individual service managers. She said it’s important to compose questions without prejudice against inexperienced students.

“All of the criteria that the managers are looking for in employees has to be approved so that they aren’t assuming any prior knowledge,” said Monteith, ArtSci ’15.

“All of the questions that we’re asking in an interview are based off the assumption that they don’t have any prior experience.”

If an applicant brings up past experience in their interview, the hiring committee will only look at what skills they’ve gained from the experience, Monteith said, rather than the experience itself.

The head managers of CoGro, the Publishing & Copy Centre (P&CC) and the AMS Information Technology (IT) Office didn’t have previous experience in their industry — but they did work for their service before becoming managers this year.

AMS IT Officer David Liu had no real experience in the IT field before he was hired as a service staffer in his first year at Queen’s.

Liu, CompSci ’16, provides the required training for incoming part-time staff in the AMS IT office.

“A large part of this training is hands on experience,” Liu told the Journal via email. “Meaning, having the staff actually explore the various systems our organization operates on.”

Liu said that the most important quality his office looks for in hiring is someone who’s clearly interested in learning more about information technology.

“We also look for qualities in candidates that demonstrate strong interpersonal skills, as they will be communicating with staff on solving technical issues,” he said.

Liu said prior experience doesn’t matter in IT services.

“What’s more important to us is a willingness on the part of the student to learn more about the technology,” he said.

“The hope is that by the end of the work term, they can take away a tangible working experience that offers them a look into what Information Technology involves.”

Lee Shelson, the head manager of P&CC, said his staff is trained on both the technical aspects of the service and on customer-service practices.

“We train all staff as if they have no experience in the field, as the vast majority do not” Shelson told the Journal via email. “We work to train them all to have the necessary skills to be exemplary staff.”

When hiring, Shelson said he and his managers don’t look for a specific set of technical qualities, but a willingness to learn and eagerness in joining the service.

“We don’t expect staff to have past industry experience,” he said. “We just want friendly and outgoing individuals who we think would be a valuable addition to our team.”

This story has been updated to reflect the following correction:

Justin Reekie worked at Common Ground as a service staffer in 2011-12, and as the AMS hospitality and safety services director in 2013-14.

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