A lot of places that are hiring Software Developers have a requirement that is more or less similar to the following:

  • 5 years experience as a software developer
  • 5+ years experience in back-end web development
  • Two or more years of professional software development experience, ideally with exposure to the full software lifecycle (from requirements through production)
  • 5+ years of development or testing experience

While the above requirements would make sense for positions such as Senior Software Engineer, too many places I see that have an opening for a job with a minimal requirement of Bachelor's degree seems to be asking for a lot of experience. Unless of course, I'm completely misunderstanding what they mean here.

When companies say that they want 5+ years of experience, does it include the years of coding experience you had from your college? Or does it only include the years you have worked in other companies? How about if you worked as a freelancer for many years? What if you worked on a project on your own? What is the scope of "experience" that companies are looking for?

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    Usually it means professional experience.
    – Nobody
    Commented Jul 21, 2012 at 5:33
  • 1
    As others have said (I agree most with Justin Cave's answer), the usual implication is that it means professional experience. As a hiring manager, I do not consider college coursework to be experience, but if a student also worked consistently in that field while also studying, there would definitely be consideration towards years of experience. To your other comment, when I hire Senior level folks, I'm looking for 8-10 years of experience to start. 5 years is in the intermediate/maybe small team lead area (for me, roughly).
    – jcmeloni
    Commented Jul 21, 2012 at 20:11
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    It might sound cynical (a CEO actually told me about this practice) but lofty expectations on job requirements are at times used as an excuse to reject perfectly good candidates on paper. The rationale: you can't reject on gut feelings, but you can reject someone on not meeting expectations.
    – Spoike
    Commented Jul 24, 2012 at 7:04
  • 1 year of experience + sympathetical look.
    – Gray Sheep
    Commented Jun 19, 2016 at 7:11
  • @Spoike I never realized that and that gold statement has enlightened me
    – GDub
    Commented Jan 12, 2022 at 1:55

5 Answers 5


I don't think there is an "exact" definition. For many employers the "x years of experience" requirement is much more of a general guideline to help applicants self-filter (and to do the same for the person in HR who screens applicant resumes prior to letting anyone from the technical team see them) than a strict requirement.

My advice would be to focus on the actual requirements of the role (i.e. do you have experience/knowledge related to the stated programming languages, platforms, software, and tools that the job description mentions, and can you demonstrate it?). If you do, and the position seems interesting to you, then it doesn't hurt to apply.

Most employers will consider you as long as you can demonstrate knowledge in the required areas. The ones that will not will be the minority, and the worst they can do is say "sorry, but you don't have the background that we require". And if that happens then just forget about that one and move on to the next.

Anyhow, the general metric I use when applying for a position and when reviewing applicants for a position is that if it can legitimately be argued that I gained knowledge or skills directly related to the role being applied for by doing something then it counts as "experience". If you built a thesis around implementing a native iOS app, then that counts as iOS development experience. If, on the other hand, your thesis was on sorting algorithms, then it does not (though you might want to talk to Google about getting a position there).


It generally means years of experience in a professional setting. It generally wouldn't include any experience before you graduated college unless you were working full-time while going to school. If you have been freelancing for many years, that would certainly count assuming that you are working roughly 40 hours a week 50 weeks a year.

Asking for between 2 and 5 years of experience doesn't seem particularly excessive. It just indicates that the company is looking for someone that isn't fresh out of college. A couple years is realistically enough time for someone to get some experience in the complete lifecycle of a piece of code and to experience first-hand how easy it is to support your own code. At most places, Senior Software Engineer implies quite a bit more than 5 years of experience.


It means "The number of years of experience that we would ideally like a candidate to have". It implied that candidates with that amount of experience would be a good fit for the position.

In reality (and certainly in the current technology hiring climate), it's really your skills that count. If you have amazing personal code that you can talk through and explain the best practices you follow, you'll likely be considered. Conversely, even for candidates that have the requisite experience, most employers today are checking their real ability to code and for some it doesn't matter how much experience (as measured by number of years) they have.

So in the end its a guideline, not a rule.


The filtering by HR makes it a strict requirement. If the posting requires X years of experience, and they don't see it on the resume, you are immediately dropped from consideration. I have also found that those years of experience are reviewed as part of the first phone screen.

They don't count your years in school, because there is no way to measure it. Remember they aren't ignoring your degree, it was counted when another requirement was Bachelors in CS or other equivalent technical degree. Some of the skills they are looking for are generally only learned on the job. They might be discussed in classes but you don't start using those skills till you get in the workplace.

Freelancing would be up to the company. You will have to be able to point to specific projects. I developed X on a contract for company Y. Projects on your own will not generally be viewed as experience.

They want to know where you are in the learning curve for that language, tool or skill set. They are also looking to measure how much time you have worked with a small or large team.

In many companies they are using internal or external systems to collect, discover, and filer resumes. They are looking for keywords, and for being able to check the box for certain technologies. People with nonstandard employment history make it hard to measure. Sometimes they can't get around the requirements. The customer will not pay the rate you want unless these minimum requirements are met.

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    Many job candidates are actually NOT initially filtered through HR, nor is every HR department so rigid that they can't accept deviations from the job description. The key thing for the OP to know is that things like "years of experience" have no exact definition, and really very little useful meaning.
    – Angelo
    Commented Jul 21, 2012 at 13:17
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    yeah i really disagree with this answer. If I really believed in it I would never have applied fpr most jobs. Commented Jul 21, 2012 at 16:13
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    unfortunately I have seen too many times HR filter so many resumes/applications because of they were looking for a specific word. On one occasion they trashed an application because the requirement was for a BS and they had a BA. You can ignore the requirments, but if it fails to pass the first hurdle, you will know why. Commented Jul 21, 2012 at 16:26

The "years of experience" would only be years of professional experience. You can't count the time you spent writing programs in school, since taking a class is nowhere near as intense a coding experience as doing it full time in a professional environment. It used by HR and by managers to screen resumes, though the interview process should determine whether your time was useful to your prospective employer.

It may also be an indicator of the salary range. With 20 years of experience in programming, I know that something requiring 3-5 years might be at a far lower rate than I'm used to earning and those requiring "no experience" won't be able to pay me enough to cover my mortgage.

Of course, it also depends on how many resumes they get. If they only got 3 resumes, they would likely bring in all three to interview. If they got 300, they're likely to throw away anything that doesn't look close to what they requested.

It never hurts to submit your resume, but you won't get an interview every time regardless of your years of experience.

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