While looking for a job via agencies some time ago, I kept having questions from the recuitment agents or in the application forms like:

How many years of experience do you have in:

  • Oracle
  • J2EE etc etc etc....

At first I answered faithfully... 5yrs, 7yrs, 2 yrs, none, few months etc etc..

Then I thought; I can be doing something shallow for 7 years and not being competent at it simply because I am just doing a minor support for a legacy system running SQL2000 which requires 10 days of my time for the past 7 years. Eventualy I declined to answers such questions.

I wonder why do they ask these questions anymore. Anyone who just graduated with a computer science can claim 3 to 4 years experience in anything they 'touched' in the cirriculum, which to me can be equivalent to zero or 10 years depending how you look at it.

It might hold true decades ago where programmers and IT skills are of very different nature. I might be wrong but I really doubt 'time' or 'years' are a good gauge of competency or experience anymore.

Any opinion/rebuttal are welcome!

  • I wonder if this is a back-handed method of age discrimination? – JeffO Nov 27 '11 at 3:25
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    Years of experience as a measure for experience is at least, as worse as, Lines of Code for system complexity. – NoChance Nov 27 '11 at 7:33

I agree, this measure of competence is meaningless. However, I am guessing that most recruiters do not know that. They simply try to match your resume to the job description as best they can. If the job ad says "10 years of experience with Oracle", then your resume may be rejected if it only lists 5 years, even if in those 5 years you have become an expert.

My advice is to answer these questions the way you did initially, to get past the initial resume filter. At the same time, look carefully at the job description yourself, and try to gauge if it is really a good match for your skills.

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  • I did actually, just those questions when asked on the phone I will not entertain. I might be missing opportunities then but I couldn't stand the 'stupidity' of it. Thank goodness I am employed rather happily now. :) – o.k.w Oct 23 '10 at 14:47
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    This. Most recruiters who call me seem like they could be effectively replaced by a shell script that called grep once or twice. It's gotten to the point that I've started answering these phone calls with "I'm not interested in other employment". If you still want such opportunities, answer the way you did initially. Also keep in mind that many companies inflate the number of years they need just to reduce the number of applicants they get. Never mind that many of the best ones are too honest to realize what game they're playing. – Inaimathi Oct 23 '10 at 14:48
  • In other words to what Dima is telling. Most of these questions are used as a technique to easily filter out the candidates. They will ask you the skills you need from them and how many years of experience. They will look for skills on the resume using keyword searches and then total amount of years that the candidate claims. This just encourages a lot of malpractice in my view. – arunmur Nov 27 '11 at 2:31
  • a lot of the hiring requirements are written by HR people, who know even less than a noob recruiter – Steven A. Lowe Nov 27 '11 at 2:43

You have raised a very good question.

You need to convey several pieces of information:

  1. How long have you being using the technology.
  2. What skill level you feel you are at.
  3. When you last used the technology.

Unfortunately most recruiters just look for a single figure so that they can rank candidates and only send those that hit a "score" along to the prospective employer.

You need to say something like:

1997 - 2004, developed 3D toolset and desktop applications using C and C++/MFC with Visual Studio 6.0

This conveys all the above information, but doesn't fit in most forms.

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    That's a really good suggestion, ChrisF. Answer what was asked, and more. :) – o.k.w Oct 23 '10 at 14:48

As a direct measure of competence, the number of years you work on something is probably irrelevant for the most part. From a recruitment perspective however, it gives a very broad idea about whether a candidate has spent the time developing the experience needed for a given position. The recruiter may not be inherently aware of this, but when you say something like "It takes 12 months to really get to know system X", what you are really saying is that in your experience, on the average most people would take about 12 months to learn enough about system x to be competent in your view. Of course, there are always a large enough number of people who exist outside the curve to make such statements inaccurate, but in order to have a wide enough selection of candidates without having to sift through every single person yourself, you specify criteria that will allow you to be introduced to a broad selection of candidates with varying skills and talents, and then work from there. If on the other hand you said "I expect you to have learned everything about system x in 2 months, 7 days, 5 hours, 11 minutes and 37 seconds, you're probably narrowing your field too unreasonably.

As far as whether or not to answer such questions... well that's entirely up to you. Personally I think it's better to simply play the game, and then allow yourself to be able to quickly move on. You may feel something is "stupid" or "unreasonable", but remember that even if you don't understand or agree with the reasoning, the method itself is simply a means to an end, and not necessarily a reflection of th competence of the interviewer! ;-)

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I prefer to separate in my resume the experience in advanced and basic categories.

  • Over advanced there are all technologies I have been using most.

  • Over basic I introduce those languages and technologies I left in the past, or those I see less over time.

I'm not describing years in resume, except on my presentation letter.

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These are good questions for recruiters:

  1. They know when the technologies became available, and can use it to detect if your numbers are bogus
  2. They can also sum them together, and compare it with your age, and gives them another way to check it
  3. It also indicates if you're good match for the position requiring those skills. Probably few of the techs listed are useless, and they'll see if you choose them.
  4. Also experience is always measured in years. A project with less than half year time is probably useless.
  5. But on the other hand, such questions also cannot explain what other skills you have
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  • You are giving too much credit to recruiters. Many just want a checklist and don't bother doing any sort of analysis on your reply. – Andres F. Nov 27 '11 at 2:18

If, for example, you started using ASP.NET in 2003, but have spent only 1/4 of your time doing projects with it since then, then you should claim only 7/4 or roughly 2 years of experience.

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  • Interesting, but that might give an impression that I had lost touch since 2006, yea? – o.k.w Oct 24 '10 at 6:54
  • @o.k.w., My point was, years of experience does not imply that they are consecutive (i.e. 2 years starting on 2003 and ending in 2005), but rather you have a total of 2 years experience total since 2003. When they took place is a matter of detail left for a follow-up answer if questioned. – tcrosley Oct 24 '10 at 23:12

To me it's just a starting point to lead to other questions. Obviously if you have zero experience, there's no need to go further, but if you claim 7 years, get ready for several in-depth questions. I doubt anyone got a job based on this blunt question alone.

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