progressively responsible experience

The 3 Least Effective Words on Your Resume

Do you want to know how to turn off a recruiter or hiring manager just as they start to read your resume? Good. I can help. Here’s one of my favorites:

Lead by telling them how many years of experience you have.

Years of Experience

Like this:

  1. Over 20 years of experience in…
  2. 22 years of experience in…
  3. More than 17 years of experience in…
Why is This a Fail?

1. If the most compelling thing you can say about your work is how long you have done it, there’s a problem, a scary potential mediocrity problem.

2. Your readers might ask, “Hmm, I wonder if that is 17 years of progressively responsible experience or if it’s one year of experience 17 times?”

3. If your reader is more than 10 years younger than you, they’ll de facto think you are old. As in, “25 years of experience? Wow, he’s as old as my dad. That’s really old.”

What if the Posting Specified Years of Experience?

Format your employment dates well enough that your readers can easily do the math. You can see helpful formatting templates here.

Show Your Progressively Responsible Experience

Also, make it easy for recruiters to see you have had progressively responsible experience. You’ll find a helpful sample resume here.

What is Progressive Experience?

If you wonder what I mean by “progressive experience,” note how each job in the sample entailed more responsibility than the previous job.

Todd started as a usability architect, then he was promoted to a vice president role, and finally, he built and ran a large UX consulting practice as a managing director.

Describing that type of growth in responsibility is a great way to show progressive experience on your resume.

Summary

In the end, recruiters and hiring managers read your resume looking for answers to 2 basic questions:

  1. Can this person do the job?
  2. Will this person do the job?

Put it that way, and you can see their needs are pretty simple.

Rather than emphasizing your years of experience, like almost 18 million people on LinkedIn do, tell them compelling stories about your leadership skills and accomplishments.

Differentiate yourself. Show them you did the job and the impact you created.

When you do, your resume will go from thumbs-down to 2-thumbs-up!

Image: elnur
Updated February 2021

© 2010 – 2021, Donna Svei. All rights reserved.

Comments 14

  1. Hi Donna,

    I don’t have so much of an issue with years of experience on a resume, if say, the advertisement itself specifies “minimum 2 years experience in industry abc” I also use them if I know that an industry is “thingie” about having those years of industry experience, like for example, FMCG companies. If a person is an older job seeker I tend to avoid the topic of years all together. Particularly if the job is advertised by a recruitment company.

    Karalyn

  2. Hi Karalyn,

    You raise a good point — but they can do the math.

    I almost never put that type of requirement in job descriptions for the positions I recruit for yet I see it on resumes frequently — as the lead. It’s a really weak lead unless it’s the employer’s number one requirement.

    Thank you,

    Donna

  3. Hi Donna,

    Just a couple of questions. If a resume is usually to contain only the last 10 years of work history because anything later than that is considered “ancient”, and an employment application usually has room to list only 3-4 employers, wouldn’t it be kind of hard for a recruiter or employer to fully do the math on a candidate’s work history? I’m not being critical here. Just wondering. I don’t have my 20 years on my resume, but I do have it mentioned on my LinkedIn summary. If someone who doesn’t know me looks at my resume and LI summary and doesn’t see a number as far as for years of work history, wouldn’t this lead them to think I’m not experienced enough? So I’m now wondering if I should take this off my LinkedIn, and also, if I take this off, what’s the employer/recruiter left with but trying to figure everything out on their own? Confused here. It seems like my 20 years should be listed somewhere to at least keep the employer/recruiter from working more than they should have to, or completely turning them off altogether. Thanks.

  4. Even if a job ad lists “at least 5 years of experience required”, there’s no need to spell it out. As a recruiter, I’d like to think that we as a whole are capable of counting to 5 (or even 10 if we need to). Focus on the quality of your work – the results you’ve generated. I’d rather have someone who’s been able to accomplish in 10 years what took someone else 20.

  5. Hi Karen & David,

    Karen: I think that David answered your question.

    David: Thank you!

    Cheers,

    Donna

  6. Excellent points re: that phrase. I think it also invites questions of “why are you not leading with an accomplishment”?

  7. I had never thought of “years of experience” in that way. I had always thought it was information hiring managers wanted immediately because they DIDN’T want to work for it.

    Thanks for this tip! I guess it’s like saying “Tonight at 7p.m.”

  8. It’s good to be interesting on your resume so that the reader can be interested. Number of years? Not as interesting as what you accomplished.

    Thank you Ed and Jillian for your comments here and on Twitter.

    You can follow Ed and Jillian on Twitter at @Ed_Han and @OneJillian. They both post great information for job seekers!

    Donna

  9. This was a really helpful piece of advice as I begin a new job search and need to restructure my resume. I have the dilemma of wanting to return to an older career path, so the last 5 years of my work life are not that relevant and my relevant experience is pretty far in the past. Leading with __ number of years seemed like a good idea but now I can see how lame/old it can sound. Thanks for your insights.

  10. I go with “15+ years of producing results.” But, that always gets changed on what the customer is looking for. If the customer wants 5-8 years, then I go with 8+. Many times the customer is looking for “Twenty-two years of experience in…” So, many will give the customer what they want. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Donna,

    Excellent points, and I have been harping on this subject for a long time! “More than 15 years of experience” sucks up valuable resume real estate, and doesn’t really tell anyone about your capabilities.

    Like Ed, I prefer to see some hard, dollar-driven achievements and competencies, rather than noting mere survival in terms of years.

    Great post!

    Laura

  12. Great points! I have a different – but related – question, and I would love your perspective. I have worked for consulting companies that need to put resumes of proposed team members in front of prospective clients. Often, those clients explicitly ask for years of experience (either in total or in a given field).

    Is there a best practice for presenting years of experience when it is appropriate? I have a pet peeve in that every – I mean EVERY – resume I see states years of experience as “more than X years…” or “over X years…” or “X+ years…” Why not just say “7 years of specialized experience”? If you say “more than 7 years” it begets questions: 7 years and 1 day? Almost 8 years? Not quite 8 years? By the time I read this, will it be 8 years?

    Why can’t people just drop the “over”, “more than”, and “+”, and agree to state years of experience as full years of experience, using a whole number/integer?

    Chris, I’m not aware of a best practice. Donna

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