Two Years of Experience Doesn’t make you “Senior”

Two years of experience doesn’t make you “senior”. Except maybe in high school. I don’t mean this in a negative sort of way. I mean it in a trying-to-help-you-out sort of way.

I’ve worked for a relatively small number of companies in my twenty-plus years of professional life. Small by the software industry’s standards, anyway. I’ve been involved in the hiring process in every job I’ve had. In most cases, I’ve been involved in the full process: assembling the job description, pruning through cover letters and resumes, interviewing, and making recommendations to hire.

In my opinion, pruning through cover letters and resumes is the hardest part. There have been times when I’ve literally received more than a thousand applications for a single job posting. In general, the first step is prune that list down to a manageable number (say a dozen or so) of people that you can talk to on the phone. From that list, you hope to narrow it down to a short list (e.g. four or five) of people that you can bring in for a face-to-face interview. You can’t really get to know somebody from a resume and cover letter; they’re used by an employer to sort out who they want to get to know. Winnowing a thousand applications into a dozen or so requires some tricks.

I tend to look for two things in an applicant: do they have the skills, and do they pay attention to detail. I don’t care if a resume is printed on cobalt blue paper. I don’t care if it uses a fancy font (though I do care if the selected font makes it difficult to read). I don’t care if it’s presented in some neat-o origami. I don’t care if you won an Olympic gold medal. Actually, I do care about the Olympic gold medal: that’s pretty cool, but it’s still not enough to get you to the next round.

The cover letter and resume must highlight relevant skills. I expect that an application for a job lists at least most of the skills required to do that job.

The cover letter and resume should be grammatically correct and all words should be spelled correctly. I can read in both correct and American English. Pick one.

On the topic of detail, let me return to the title of this post: Two Years of Experience Doesn’t make you “Senior”. Do not tell me that you graduated from college or university two years ago and have been working as a “senior” anything in the field. With two years of experience and a little luck, you may wind up as a “lead” developer; but you’re not senior. You need a few more years of real industry experience before you can call yourself senior.

If you’re a young person just starting out in this business, I give you this advice: don’t oversell yourself, represent yourself honestly, pay attention to the details, and do a little research on the companies you’re applying to. The software industry values potential.

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5 Responses to Two Years of Experience Doesn’t make you “Senior”

  1. codingkriggs says:

    Technically, the title “Senior Developer” could be a title given by the company where they worked as an incentive to keep them around. Shouldn’t they not use their actual title? I say, if you want to really evaluate their seniority, it isn’t difficult to get their years worked from the resume.
    Furthermore, the way I see it, the world is filled with all kinds of people, and two categories are formed (with overlap of course): those that hire, and those that are hired. Just as you have seen a lot of variety in those you hire, there is a lot of variety is those that do the hiring. You have these pet peeves, and others that do hiring have their own, different pet peeves. These have cost people a lot of jobs that, hey, they might actually be the most suited to do, but on the plus side, with the help of the law of averages, they’ll find an employer better suited to them.
    You might be doing the world a favour by helping people improve their resume, but on the specific point of the word “senior”, there is a dark secret: some employers may in fact be impressed by someone fresh out of school that has already attained senior (in name only) status.

  2. I fully agree.
    And I add something: be careful when you say that you are “expert in X” (where X could be Java, Architecture, C++, etc ….)
    Sometimes, for job interview, I present myself as the human resource manager of Obeo (I don’t lie, but I just forgot to speak about by technical background). The candidate has only 1 year of experience but he says me he is a “Java expert” and is so good that he learns Java to James Gosling. Usually, I just listen several minutes to let him try to explain me how impressive are his skills, and try to impress me by using technical keywords that I shouldn’t understand.
    But I just ask a short but very hard question about Java. Something like : “Do you know Java keywords? OK, what “volatile” means?”. And sometimes, when the candidate see that I’m a technical guy, he says “oh you know, perhaps, I’m not really an expert ….”. So he re-explain me his previous experiences with a very different story ….

    So, be careful when you use “senior” and “expert”.

  3. When I used to do recruiting for IBM at universities in British Columbia, the single l most important piece of information I asked for was “What would you like to be doing five years from now?” There are a lot of very young people out there who aspire to be doing something other than development work, but that’s what I’m hiring them for. You really can’t expect everyone to be a manager by the time they’re 27. We just don’t need that many managers, not even at IBM.

  4. Mark says:

    20 years doesn’t make you “Senior” either.

  5. sd giant says:

    Senior is a common industry term. It’s attached to a title by companies as recognition of effort or skill, usual with a raise. Also, if the individual is contracting or consulting, common in our industry, the title is generally connected to a higher rate at which the individual is hired out.

    While I understand your take in terms of hiring, consider this: If someone has been working at a position with the title “Senior”, another party considers them to be worthy of the moniker. If they are a contractor or consultant, yet another company has agreed to pay a higher rate to obtain their services.

    You may not agree with the other companies usage of the title, but they chose to bestow it on the individual. Perhaps the usage of the title was abitrary, or doesn’t fit your own standards. Perhaps it was earned. It’s not impossible… I worked with an 18 year old kid who blew past every developer at the company within 2 years by sheer merit. It happens.

    Either way, by discarding them during your hiring process, you make assumptions. That is your choice, but I’ll just throw out there that someone in their past disagrees with your assessment. Proceed as you will.

    (copied from DZ)

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