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A lot of jobs I'm looking at say 'Minimum 5 years experience with xyz technology in a commercial role' or similar.

Are employers really genuinely looking for this, or are they willing to give the job to the right person?

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HR departments will typically screen for degrees and the experience clock, and really anything that's not subjective. How much latitude they have is all over the board, but they're usually not the people who will understand that five years of doing high quality engineering is better than seven years doing non-challenging assignments.

In my case, I supply the experience and qualification requirements, and HR screens candidates before I see the resumes. Honestly though, I'd say that 75% of all job descriptions are boiler plates copied from somewhere else on the Internet, and tweaked from there to fit the specific posting.

If you can get your resume into the hands of the hiring manager directly, they can most likely override many experience (and education) requirements.

Another way that things play out is that employers can post whatever they want, but if they need to fill the position, they'll gather up the best resumes and start doing interviews regardless of whether or not anyone met the requirements.

If you know that you can be effective in that role, apply.

  • Also, in many organizations, the HR screening is computerized. A human never reads a resume that doesn't contain the "magic" words and phrases. – jfrankcarr Dec 30 '13 at 2:50
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Are employers really genuinely looking for this, or are they willing to give the job to the right person?

In my experience, employers are always willing to give the job to the right person. But finding the right person is difficult, and many wrong persons apply for the job.

Whenever I write a Job Description that includes something like "Minimum 5 years experience with xyz technology in a commercial role", I'm looking to accomplish several things:

  • I'm trying to eliminate entry level job seekers from applying
  • I'm trying to find someone who can come in and be productive without a protracted learning curve
  • I'm looking for someone who knows the technology I'm currently using
  • I'm looking for someone with real-world experience, not just academic experience
  • In my case, I'm looking for someone who has used the xyz technologies to help create systems that customers actually pay for, not just an internal IT department releasing systems at the behest of on internal VP

All of those attributes factor into what makes the person the right person.

Now, if someone came in with let's say just 4 years of experience, but carried all the other attributes in the right amounts, she would certainly be considered. And if I didn't have another candidate with better credentials, she might be chosen.

On the other hand if someone comes in with 6 months experience right after college in a different technology for an internal IT department, she probably won't get past the resume screening. She may be very smart, and really motivated and excited about learning xyz technologies, but my requirements don't allow for the training period she would almost certainly need to be productive enough. Perhaps I'll have other entry-level jobs that could support it, but not this job.

Job requirements are seldom absolute. But ignoring them completely almost certainly means you won't be considered for the job I'm offering.

  • The real-world experience part is very real. Things can go wrong in so many ways, that freshly hatched academics cannot envision and which cannot be taught, so experience is needed. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Mar 22 '14 at 9:02
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Somewhat. There can be a broad range of how deep into a technology someone may or may not get over the course of 5 years. Some people may learn the basics and just use those over and over again for another 4 years which while technically it is 5 years, there isn't any progression of knowing the technology at a deeper level since it was never required. Thus, there is something to be said for the 5 years have general implications that for most people would require at least 4 years to get there. There may be some people that can develop some expertise quicker and thus in only 2 or 3 years they may have the same deal of experience though this isn't always the easiest thing to convey.

As an example, consider someone that works at Microsoft on the guts of the .Net framework versus a web developer that uses ASP.Net WebForms for a site. The former may well have a deeper knowledge of what is in the framework and what kinds of design decisions were made in releasing a version of the framework that the latter may not even knows exists as challenges.

Thus, while I'd argue there is some flexibility in exactly how much time one has spent with a technology, this shouldn't be inferred that anyone could be given the job even if they have very little to no experience with the technology.

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As a hiring manager who is also 100% responsible for the content of the job ad (this is not always the case, as other answers have noted), "years of experience" is meaningful to me. However, exact matches for years of experience is not so meaningful to me. That is not the case for strict, by-the-book HR screening processes and resume matching, which is still quite prevalent in many industries.

Taking a look at your example -- "Minimum 5 years experience with xyz technology in a commercial role" -- if I had written this (which I wouldn't, exactly), what I would care about is the plural of years, the specific technology, and the "commercial" part. What that says is "we want someone who is not just out of school, who uses or has used the same technology stack we do, and who has worked in a team, in a production environment, and in general knows what that entails."

The use of "5" instead of "3" in terms of years of experience says to me they do want someone with at least a few years under their belt -- if you're just out of school or internship, that's not really what they want. If you see "3" in terms of years of experience, if you're good and professional, but only have a solid year of work, they could very well take a look at you. In general, there's a difference between 3, and 5, and 7 in terms of expectations of skill level, teamwork, knowledge of processes, responsibility levels, and so on, even if the numbers don't precisely line up.

As an example, here is a "requirements" statement in one of my job ads:

A solid understanding of the Ruby language and the Rails framework, and at least three years working with it in a professional environment (if you have less experience with Ruby but have been working professionally with other languages and can make a good case for your skills, do it!)

What I'm looking for is someone not just out of school, who has been working with Ruby and Rails for more than a year, in a team environment, in a production environment, and who doesn't need a lot of hand-holding. Recognizing that people switch languages either for fun, profit, or otherwise, I'm also quite happy to see resumes from people who have (for example) worked in Java professionally and then switched, or PHP professionally and then switched, or (insert other languages here). But even then, if they've just switched, that's probably not someone I'd rate terribly highly -- they have to make good case for their skills (which for me comes out in their take-home assignment after a phone screen).

So yes, I genuinely look for some reasonable number of years close to what I ask for in a job ad, but I also look at all the other factors involved. Four solid years of work in a single language when I'm looking for 5? I'll probably interview you. Only 2? Probably not. Three years in one language and a switch to another? Probably would make it through my first cut, but I'd want to read something interesting about it in your cover letter.