The Myth of Years of Experience
Kenji Japra
December 1, 2022

A Biased Industry

How many times have employers demanded X years of experience for a role that you are interested in?

Based on the job description, you may meet all the requirements. Yet, you may find yourself often overlooked.

This concept has permeated the tech industry. In order to understand the fallacies of this requirement, we must first understand why it exists.

Companies Require Profit

No company can survive if its output is not greater than its input. In other words, its profit must exceed its cost, and hiring can be expensive.

In order to reduce the risk of hiring unqualified candidates, employers narrow their candidate pool with various constraints; a common one being years of experience.

Costs of a Bad Hire

What happens if a candidate is hired that does not rise to the challenges of the role?

  • The longer the onboarding the larger the upfront investment.
  • More resources required to manage poor performance.
  • Increased risk of missed deadlines that can affect the business.
  • Reduced team morale.
  • Additional costs to hire a backfill.

While valid concerns, the misconception, however, is that these issues can be mitigated through an upfront requirement of years of experience.

The Lost Art

What are we forgetting when we become gatekeepers on this particular issue?

Curiosity should not be an underrepresented metric.

It is never a good idea to become too comfortable. By focusing on years of experience, we forget the foundational aspect of continuous learning and keeping up with industry innovation.

A candidate who continues to do so as passionately as they did early career has valuable expertise compared to someone with double the years of experience but decided not to step out of their comfort zone.

Years of experience does not guarantee having exercised lifelong learning.

Work can be play.

People spend their non-work hours differently; some people genuinely enjoy their line of work. Time added outside of work can be an invisible force that increases density of experience.

Additionally, these candidates bring passion, energy, and a drive to the battlefield while experiencing tremendous growth in shorter timeframes.

Do not do to others what was done to oneself.

Innate human biases exist to hold others to similar standards. A director that took ten years to achieve their position might overlook a candidate who achieved similar results in five. This severs the momentum of high-performers and over-achievers.

The industry sends mixed signals.

There is no industry standard for how many years are required to undertake the challenge of a particular role at a particular company. Five years in a challenging environment is more fruitful than ten years in a half as challenging environment. No two experiences are equal, no two years are equal.

Do not be anti-diversity.

A common requirement that employers have for new hires is that they be able to attract higher talent. Do years of experience help in that regard? While the resumé goes deeper, the bias towards years of experience attracts people who benefit from having it. This hurts the people who don’t, regardless of their ability to contribute.

So What Now?

We can’t completely discredit years of experience. Years of experience may grant a few key skills.

  1. Experiencing various lifecycles and stages of companies provides valuable perspective.
  2. Overcoming personal and professional challenges builds character and wisdom.
  3. A better understanding of what works and what doesn’t.
  4. More time to refine soft skills required to succeed in a role.

Keep in mind that aside from a few exceptions, not all aspects are strictly bound by time. In fact, many who focus on welding their weaker link in their chain can defy expectations.

My Recommendation

If you see a job that requires more years of experience than you have, apply anyway. If you are rejected for lack of years, move on. It is better to work for a company that shares your values.

Employers should drop the years of experience requirement and meet people where they are. Learn what they can contribute. Can they rise to the challenge of the role?

Employers should not shy away from rewarding employees who do rise up to the challenge. Do not use the lack of years of experience to hold them hostage in their position. They can become your strongest contributors.

Most importantly, never get too comfortable and never stop learning. No matter how many years someone has under their belt, there is always more to be done.

In a biased industry, years of experience will come naturally, but what’s riskier than a skilled employee with fewer years of experience is an unskilled employee with many years of experience.