Years of experience won’t make you qualified for a job. And here’s why.

A blog post on why you don’t need X years of experience to be who you want to be and what really makes you qualified

How many years of experience does one need to qualify for an assistant position? A manager position? What about Vice President? The chance is that the society or that last job posting you saw on LinkedIn have already given you a rough estimate on the number of years, months, and weeks you would need to become eligible for that fancy job title.

But do these years actually make you a someone who does (or would do) a great job?

What is ‘being qualified’?

Qualified is an objective with multiple meanings. Employers seek the most qualified applicants, meaning those who have enough relevant knowledge and training. Being qualified might also mean you have paperwork that shows you had certain training or meet certain standards. And in these lines, you might think that there is probably some logic to the common idea of “years of experience equals doing a great job”…

Or is there?

Let’s be honest. Having a certain skill is not the same as having “minimum X years of experience.” People have different learning curves, and some might need 5 years to learn a skill another person would have learnt in a matter of months… or weeks. Given today’s technological advancements and information availability, one can pick up a basic skill in a few days by reading and watching things online and practicing by one’s own — a learning luxury of the 21st century, which was unavailable to your high school teachers’ generation.

Years of building expertise vs. years of experience

Unless you’ve spent all three, five or ten years — pick your own number — learning something new every day in your role and continuously innovating, there is a chance that outperforming you and really (I mean really) becoming qualified (i.e. being able to do your job equally well) would take less time than you’ve spent in your office chair. The reason? — you’ve got less years worth of expertise than written in your CV.

And even if you have done a great deal of learning, how much of that knowledge is still relevant today, especially if you started in IT or Digital Communications? Do you really need all those 10 years of experience in Social Media marketing to manage the corporate content on Facebook, given that the platform has been continuously changing and evolving? What is there in your skill set that differentiates you from a younger tech-savvy generation?

“To be an expert in a field that changes from one day to the next is akin to placing your hand in a running river; you can trap a small bit of water for the moment, but once you lift your hand again the river rushes on”
- Kelly Ripley Feller, ArmchairMarketing

It took me one month to teach a new lady in one of my previous jobs to write decent news stories for our corporate website — something I have spent 4+ years learning in the university and at my reporting jobs. Though the quality was yet to be improved over time, she was already, technically speaking, ‘qualified’ for the position.

This was heart-breaking: I have worked so hard to understand the basic principles of news writing and building blocks of a good story, yet it took me less time to pass this knowledge on than it took me to acquire this knowledge! That was when I realized that doing a good job does not correlate with the amount of time spent learning to do it or even actually doing it. The amount of dedication and passion does.

As Seth Godin puts it,

“All the things that get you hired for jobs, the resume, the proof that you’ve worked for the famous brands, the proof that you can follow instructions — none of those things are actually relevant to your doing great work”
- Seth Godin, entrepreneur, author

Quality vs. Quantity

Have you ever met a 13-year old who was wiser than your 60-year old school teacher? Or a young graduate who knew more about leadership than your CEO? If years of experience were all that mattered then you would have never complained that your boss “didn’t understand simple things” (I heard harsher things about my friends’ superiors). If years of experience mattered the most then all your superiors would have been the best role models, and you would have learned something new from them at every Monday meeting.

Unfortunately, this is not the case, and the real world is much more complex. Quality of people’s experiences and the ways the people learn from them will tell you more about their actual qualifications that a number of years spent in a “leadership position.”

… the real world is much more complex. Quality of people’s experiences and the ways the people learn from them will tell you more about their actual qualifications that a number of years spent in a “leadership position.”

Qualified to make a difference?

Spending half of your working time catching up on email threads and having meetings with your coworkers won’t make you any more qualified than your new intern. Being qualified on paper doesn’t always mean being able to make a difference or do exceptional work.

Ten years of experience won’t make you a great manager. Your courage to take responsibility for difficult decisions will. How much time it would take you to gain that courage or mentor skills needed to be great at that role is only up to you and your urge to do great work and make a difference.

How many years of experience does one need to start doing great work? Forget titles. Think meanings.

“The only time we get a chance to be qualified is when we act ‘as if’. when we stand out and choose tension.”
- Seth Godin, entrepreneur, author

Let’s face it. All people at your organization (yes, and even that ‘know-it-all’ colleague) knew nothing about their craft when they just started. Stephen King once was unqualified as a writer. So was J.K. Rowling. That was before they have written their first book.

“The truth is that “the only time we get a chance to be qualified is when we act ‘as if,’ when we stand out and choose tension. When Brené Brown wrote her first book she’d never written that book before. When we think about anyone who has touched us, who has moved us, who has made something that mattered, that person was completely unqualified to do the work they had just done” (Seth Godin).

How do I become qualified to do great job?

There is always someone in the world doing things better and faster than you, someone who has started earlier or graduated from a more prestigious school. Yet, it doesn’t mean you should stop and wait several years for someone to give you an official permission to be called ‘qualified.’

Only through constant learning, one makes his or her years of work experience worth the time acquiring those. Only by choosing to do great work and innovate before having an official authority to do so, one becomes truly qualified to do exceptional things. The idea is not to appease people with fancier job titles, but to outgrow the perception in your mind that you should first be called ‘qualified’ to start doing great things. “What’s available to us now is the chance to play the first violin before we are qualified. That is the only chance we get the chance to become qualified” (Seth Godin).

“What’s available to us now is the chance to play the first violin before we are qualified. That is the only chance we get the chance to become qualified.” — Seth Godin

‘Qualified’ is never a result. ‘Qualified’ is an everlasting journey. And you don’t have to have many years of experience to undertake it now.

INBOUND 2015 Keynote: Seth Godin


Anzhelika is writing about reimagining oneself, building great teams, inspiring great work, humanizing workplace, and responsible marketing.

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