Although it's not mentioned explicitly on the resume, we sometimes write something like "ABC professional with N years experience" on Linkedin or other online professional profiles or career development websites - sometimes also on a cover letter.

I have worked independently since high school age, throughout and after university for a total of 12 years; only four years after graduating I joined a major corporation as a junior manager in the same field. While there was an obvious difference between the scale and workload of my part-time/independent work and my full-time work, the actual content and learning has been equally relevant. In such a situation, would it be correct to say "Web design professional with 14 years experience"? And could I still apply for a position requiring 5+ years of experience as a designer, even though I have only 2 years within a corporation?

Would I need to be meticulous and count the exact days and hours I worked or is it sufficient to count from the year I started doing work, regardless of the actual hours I worked?

Would your answer depend on the specific industry and profession?

I am aware of a few very similar questions, though what distinguishes mine is that I look for a proactive way to demystify any prejudice about my years of working solo.

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    If you've worked, for example, an average of 10 hours a week for the last 6 years, IMO you only have 1.5 years of experience.
    – tcrosley
    Jan 29, 2014 at 20:07

3 Answers 3


Speaking as a hiring manager, "years of experience" means "years performing this task professionally (for pay or otherwise), outside of a learning environment." In other words, producing work for a client, not for a university instructor, and it doesn't matter how that client is paying you (e.g. as an employee or a contractor).

For example: 2 years making widgets when employed by company A + 1 year of making widgets when working for yourself on behalf of someone who contracted you for the work = 3 years of experience

Additionally, what you will sometimes find is an additional qualifying statement in a job ad, such as "3+ years of experience in a professional environment," which means that if you spent the last 2 years performing tasks only during coursework, I'm not going to count it. However, if you spent the last 2 years performing tasks in a work-study or part-time job while also learning those same tasks in classes, I'd give at least partial credit for those years.

A big note: "years of experience" typically means some reasonable approximation of "continuous" years performing the task in a professional environment. If you performed a certain task continuously for 2 years, 10 years ago, and never again until today, that's not 10 years of experience -- it's just 2.


Depending on your skill level from your years of freelancing, it might be reasonable to apply for a job requesting 5+ years of experience. However, whether or not they'd consider your application would probably depend on the reasoning the employer listed 5+ years as the level of experience desired.

They could be looking for someone who has spent multiple years working on teams doing large-scale websites, and is a master of meetings and scrum and agile or whatever technologies and methodologies they are in love with, who's been there long enough to have had to do bug fixes and upgrades on their own work. Or they could just be looking for someone who can hit the ground running a little faster than a fresh out of college hire who's never implemented a website that wasn't a homework assignment or dealt with issues of scale ever.

Depending on what you were doing in those years of freelancing would affect how marketable those years of experience were. The technologies available and skills required to make a website 14 years ago are hardly comparable to what is expected to be competitive today. Certainly over time I'd hope to see progression in the difficulty of the work you took on and the scale of the sites you built and keeping up on the latest technologies. Keep in mind that working with customers, meeting their expectations, marketing and selling your services, finding customers, and so on are not without merit as experience. You may not have practice working with co-workers, but practice working with customers

That said, claiming 14 years of experience would be misleading and tough to justify. Tcrosley gives a great example in his comment: 6 years of working 10 hours per week roughly is the equivalent to the number of hours you would work in 1.5 years full time work at 40 hours per week. While I wouldn't say it's necessary to count the exact days and hours you worked to come up with a "full-time equivalency" estimate, it would be a good idea to ballpark it. Don't just claim part time is full-time because it's not. If you worked half-time for 1 year, count that as half a year of experience...regardless of whether you were freelancing or doing an internship.


I've never felt the need to discount periods between contracts from my "X years of experience". The only time I might feel obliged to do so is if I spent a significant portion of time doing something other than keeping my skills sharp while I look for my next contract (e.g. if I took a career break to be a stay-at-home dad or something).

"X years of experience" is usually a shorthand for "Has successfully delivered a number of projects". As the X grows larger, you also expect "and has been around to see the repercussions of decisions, has taken feedback, and has incorporated that feedback into future projects". When I'm looking at a freelancer CV I'm not usually worried about that kind of thing as freelancers tend to have those kinds of skills in abundance. So long as you're giving some details about what you've done in your time freelancing, I don't think you have to worry.

Off-topic: You're more likely to have to convince a hiring manager why they should take the risk of hiring an ex-freelancer. You'll need to be able to give a convincing reason why you've given up freelancing and are looking to settle down into a long and productive career! "X years freelancing, short stint with company, looking for new job" is a red flag.

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    From the OP: I want to add that I actually prefer the career progression in a corporate environment, and the only reason I freelanced before that was simply because during most of those years I was also in full time education (school or university) so it was not possible to be employed during that period. Jan 29, 2014 at 19:15
  • I do not know if that comment matters but it was attempted to be edited into the question, and I knew it did not belong there. Jan 29, 2014 at 19:16

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