Do Fewer Years of Commercial Experience Hold You Back From Senior Jobs?

Outline

Companies hiring candidates for senior roles generally ask for a variety of requirements to be fulfilled by applying candidates. They ask for mastery in language X, Y, and/or Z, familiarity using A or B project delivery methodologies/techniques, and X years of experience. Traditionally, years of experience equates to greater experience, and as such demands greater seniority and responsibilities. Under this traditional logic, a junior employee would have worked for up to 2 years, a mid-level 3–5 years, and a senior employee 5+ years. Do more years of experience, commercially at least, demand greater respect? And conversely, do fewer years hold you back from senior-level jobs?

Our (now patent-pending /s) Non-Scientific Evidence

To try and answer said question, we’ve pulled data from 50 senior-level job listings on hackajob, 10 for each of the following programming languages: Java, PHP, iOS, Python, Javascript. For each of them, we compare the average years of experience asked for as per the listing, with the average years of experience of candidates applying via their CVs.

For Senior-level jobs, on average companies asked for over 5 years (5.28) of experience. The talented candidates on hackajob meanwhile possessed an average of under 5 years (4.68), a difference of 0.6 years. The difference was most accentuated by Senior Front-End roles, with the average years of experience asked for being 1.3 years greater than those possessed by candidates.
The difference is also notable for Python (0.8 years) and PHP (0.7 years) roles, and less so for iOS (0.3 years) roles. For Senior-level Java roles, the average years of experience of candidates was higher by 0.1 years, though this margin is negligible.

Discussion

There are numerous questions we could follow up the above results with, but the main one has to be: Why might the average years of experience of candidates be less than that asked for by companies?
Well, we could comment that, as noted, the metric is simple, if flawed (i.e. uber non-scientific). We could also state, given that these are averages, candidates on hackajob are being a wee-bit cheeky and applying for jobs with less years of experience than asked. But is that so bad? And this drives to the heart of the issue: Years of experience may not necessarily equate with a candidate’s qualification for a job, let alone the word ‘seniority’ put in the job title.

In an answer to the question, ‘How can I overcome “years of experience” requirements when applying to positions?” on Stack Exchange, user bethlakshmi, an engineering manager at Akamai who has hired candidates before, states she views experience as the sum of several factors, including ‘time working, experiences survived, the nature of the role and responsibilities, and potential lessons learned.’ To bethlakshmi, it is less a case of how many years you have in experience, but how many experiences you have acquired over the years.

As the above answer raises, it is experience with the skills and knowledge required by the job, the endeavours undertaken and adversities overcome, and the lessons learnt from them, that can form a better indicator that ‘years of experience.’ This is even more apparent than where years of experience concerns ‘professional’ or experience in employment — pursuits outside work, or for university students, societies and competitions, could all contribute to the overall indicator of ‘experience.’ Given this, a person in work for 3 years, may have more experience than a person with 5.

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