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In the Indian IT industry, I have found that regardless of the candidate's skill level, filtering is done based on number of years of experience.

I have found that people with 5 years of work experience have appalling programming skills, general aptitude and intelligence. They are mostly people who did non-CS courses in college but not necessarily (sadly).

I think years of experience is a very marginal and unreliable indicator of the person's skill level. A person could have spent 5 years as a programmer doing mediocre to substandard work. But they are still considered a valuable candidate given the "experience certificate" they can produce. But that's the reality in India.

What is the general practice in the US and other countries? Do recruiters filter based on years of experience? If you are a recruiter and you understand the practice of filtering based on years of experience can you explain the logic behind this?

Edit: While I agree that experience trumps added qualifications (in terms of degrees), I don't think YEARS of experience - a document stating the same - is a reliable indicator of skill or maturity. That was my question. Indian IT recruitment works on certificates. I don't mean unheard of companies that trade on the sole fact that $1 = Rs.45. I've found this in companies like Oracle! The experience certificate qualifies you or doesn't for an interview.

Sure I GUESS you don't want to put a fresh out of college for a project management position. Even there I am no certain how heavily should experience weigh in qualifying candidates for consideration for recruitment.

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If I am a buyer, I would definely go for the person who has more experience. I can't waste my time testing them. –  Chris Jul 27 '11 at 6:16
You should not feel sad about someone being hired despite his level of education. If he is capable of completing the job either by experience or exposure, the company will hire him. It's the company's call. –  bhagyas Jul 27 '11 at 11:18
@bhagyas I'm not sad. :) –  rsman Jul 27 '11 at 15:33
It's interesting knowing if they have 5 years of the same work (the same year over and over) experience or 5 years or learning and growing. People who just do the same thing day in and day out aren't valuable to most organizations. There are exceptions though... –  Travis Mar 3 '12 at 17:27

11 Answers 11


As a computer science graduate and employer for the last 14 years I would hire someone with experience over qualifications every time.


When I went through my course, which is well recognised worldwide, there were some 120 people who started it, around 60 of those finished it ... Most people who finished the course did so by studying exactly what was on the course material, nothing else (most of which in software is out of date before it is taught). The majority of those 60 couldn't then apply this learning to a real world application to save their lives (or jobs) ...

The key difference I saw was those who had prior experience, like myself programming since I was 9 years old, and continued to gain experience were the ones who kept up with the changes and could absorb the concepts put in front of them ... becuase they had the prior experience as a context to compare it to.

The rest were useless for several years after uni until they got a chance to see how the theories actually played out in the real world.

So, your statement "years experience is a poor indicator", I suppose is partially valid ... but there are two types of people you need to consider:

  1. those who constantly change and evolve, what I would term "gaining in experience"
  2. those that just apply the same first years learning over and over for the following years.

It is the first group we want to employ, it is the second group I think you are comparing yourself to ... so the real question is how do you tell the difference between these two groups.

  • Question 1 is "How many years experience have you had?"
  • Question 2 is "What did you do in those years to improve and evolve?"
  • and Question 3 is "What are you going to do in the next 5 years to continue your growth?"

Summary: A qualification is just a starting point, the first rung, experience and constant learning, building on top of this foundation is the real differentiator.

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All over the world, a large part of the recruitment process is handled by HR personnel who typically don't know anything about programming. So, alas, they can't do any better than filtering based on quantifiable measures when comparing the candidate's CV to the job requirements, like

  • number of matching buzzwords / acronyms is over threshold,
  • years of experience in given areas is close to or over threshold.

Fortunately, there are companies where (at least at some stage) they involve in the recruitment process people who actually know a thing about SW development. They can test for real experience, which only somewhat weakly correlates to the number of years spent in the industry. These companies, of course, get a definitive advantage and fare better in the long run.

So all we need to do is look for these companies, to help Darwinian selection do its job, and create more such workplaces for us :-)

I know this may not sound very appealing to you if you seem to find none of these companies in India. Have you considered moving to the US or Europe? You definitely have better chances here, according to my experience.

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In Estonia, there are two types of developers.

Ones who went to college

They know all the basics and even if they don't find a solution, they know right away where to look for it. However, their style is very raw.. unpolished as you will. In theory their work looks nice, but its missing the soul (yes, I said soul.)

Ones who worked that time

Because they have self-thought themselves, they might not know some of the basics or not know some of the solutions. But they live and breath programming and they have an instinct, when something is not right.

But the bottom line is, that portfolio gets the job :)

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+1 i certainly appreciate the part "Ones who worked that time" –  Ibu Jul 27 '11 at 8:04
@Harry - you mean the ones who went to collEge, not collage ? –  Jas Jul 27 '11 at 10:17
Yup, my bad. English is not my mother tongue and I rarely read my own text :$ –  Kalle H. Väravas Jul 27 '11 at 10:29
People can be passionate and go to college... well it depends on the country maybe but that would be the people you look for –  Nikko Jul 27 '11 at 10:58
Yes of course. If I would have enough time and "automatic income", I would go to college just because its interesting. However, I'm talking about general stereotypes, specially in Estonia. Not sure about other countries :) –  Kalle H. Väravas Jul 27 '11 at 18:34

I am not a recruiter but still had to voice my thoughts

A person could have spent 5 years as a programmer doing mediocre to substandard work

What you are saying is a possibility which can occur on any part of the world. So you should not make your opinions based on that.

It could be possible that you have met only those unfortunate ones who make up those category,sorry about that but still there is a major chunk out there who are passionate about programming and have evolved over the period of time.

The 5 years you are talking about is a learning curve which people negotiate differently (coz we are all individuals with our own strengths and weakness)

It is factor which companies look upon based on the projects or work scope they have on board which cannot be expected from someone fresh out of college. But its not the only factor there are Reference checks made to check out the credibility of the person, how good or bad he was at his previous post. Are the facts he presented really true or he is faking it.

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There's a direct correlation between number of years experience and salary which, consequently, leads to the belief: the more experience you are, the better you are.

Even Joel Spolsky writes about how he pays his employees partly based on the number of years experience they have. Here too.

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To best answer your question, put yourself in place of an employer, and ask yourself:

To whom I'm gonna pay money? Somebody who can do my job? Or somebody who has more stuff?

and by stuff I mean college degrees, experience, international certificates, etc.

The rule is, the employer wants somebody who can do the job, and he/she doesn't care about the rest, unless being forced by an external authority (like government for example to not hire people without college certificate). Now, the question is:

How the heck an employer can get sure that somebody is more capable for doing the job?

IMHO, the list of factors to answer this question are:

  1. Experience
  2. Skills (for which the applicant has no certificate to present, like touch-typing)
  3. International certificates
  4. College certificate
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I would place aptitude above experience, but it's hard to measure. I've known several experienced programmers that I wouldn't trust to do anything other than code-monkey work, and several people straight out of school that I'd trust to handle anything I needed to throw at them. –  Toby Jul 27 '11 at 13:40

I'm located in northern Europe, and from my experience it boils down to who is requesting the resource and who are involved in the recruitment process. Sometimes top management requests resources from HR, at other times the request comes from the team itself. Often the filtered applications are also screened by team members where the applicant will work but not always. The years of experience, buzz word count and listed skills acts as a filter, mostly for HR, for getting a manageable amount of applicants, which is understandable considering that they can get several hundred applications for just one position. I heard a story of one manager/recruiter who was handed a big pile of printed applications. He took one look at it, split it in half, threw one half in the trash and said "To work here, you need to be lucky.".

It is possible to get a position as a developer fresh out of university, but you need to rely on the company having a recruiter who can recognize talent and slip you through the filter, or that you have a chance to get interviewed by developers who you will be working with.

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You should not feel sad about someone being hired despite his level of education. If he is capable of completing the job either by experience or exposure, the company will hire him. It's the company's call.

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I'd just like to throw my 0.02$ out there:

I was programming since I was 12 years old, did it mostly for fun, as there's nothing cooler than building something from scratch, I was recently hired as a web developer for a company, with nothing to show for except for my stint as a small failed business owner, not related to the world of computers at all - the only big project I made, was the website I created for my business.

When I started working here, I got to replace the previous coder who has been doing this type of work proffessionally for a couple of years - only to find out that his code was horrible to read & maintain.

This guy was doing it proffessionally for a couple of years, and I believe that if anyone saw his code, they'd prolly commit suicide.

My point is this: You can never know based on a line in CV who's the better canidate, the only way to find it out - is to give them SOMETHING TO CODE, There are people who have years of experience doing THE WRONG THING, and there are people who finished a degree with the mere purpose of getting hired - with no passion or intrest to the subject.

But if someone is willing to move outside their little box of what they think is "right", than you have a great canidate for a job, and I believe it is so for every proffession & expertise.

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I've seen this in Canada and the US over the past ~14 years that I've been doing development work. My guess is partially it is derived from the idea that if you had so much experience you must be at least good enough to keep the job for that time period. Thus, you are good enough to do the job. Not necessarily well of course but that isn't often stated in the criteria.

Most recruiters will use years of experience as a guideline to some extent as most employers have an idea of how much experience they are wanting for a position. In some cases they want that person with lots of experience as there may be a lot for that person to do without guidance and so someone with years in the trenches is what is sought. This doesn't always work out well but what are the other areas to use as a filter? If there are a hundred resumes what else is the recruiter or HR person supposed to use instead of experience? At least that is my experience and questions that I'd have.

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IMHO... Experience is a good signal, but not the most important thing. The experience on a resume tells me what the probable outer bound of someone's skills are. The outer bound of someone with 10 years of experience is higher than the outer bound of 2. That doesn't mean actual skills, just the outer bound. And the junior resource could have more aptitude, energy, etc.

Some caveats on this:

  • The experience has to be relevant, though the higher you go, the softer the relevant skills are.

  • It's important to see progression. Someone who over 5 years hasn't graduated to more difficult problems has probably just repeated 1 year of experience 5 times.

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