Work Experience and Your Career: Importance and Tips
Updated July 12, 2022
Published December 12, 2019
Jennifer Herrity is a seasoned career services professional with 12+ years of experience in career coaching, recruiting and leadership roles with the purpose of helping others to find their best-fit jobs. She helps people navigate the job search process through one-on-one career coaching, webinars, workshops, articles and career advice videos on Indeed's YouTube channel.
When searching for a new job, you’ll come across many job postings that ask for different levels of work experience. As your career develops, having a thorough understanding of job experience levels can help you choose the positions that will keep you on the right career path.
In this article, we review all levels of work experience and how to determine what level you are at as you advance in your career.
Why is work experience valuable?
Relevant work experience can help prepare you for a fulfilling career in your desired field. Gaining work experience, even as a volunteer or an intern, will also help you start developing a professional network that can help you obtain another job in the future.
The work experience section in your resume also allows you to feature the most prominent achievements in your professional life. Focusing on the goals you have achieved in your previous positions can help you show your employer how you can help push a team toward success.
The different job experience levels
Different job experience levels distinguish those with a strong background in an industry from those who may still need guidance to succeed. For example, if you’ve worked in the same position for two or three years, your manager may trust you to train new hires.
After gaining enough experience, you may also obtain the knowledge and confidence necessary to pursue leadership positions in your field. For example, a successful creative director will need both strong interpersonal skills and a thorough understanding of design principles to lead a team successfully. Most people can gain these qualifications after several years of relevant experience.
Here are the most common work experience levels you might find listed in job openings:
Senior or executive-level
When you first join the workforce, you will likely start in an entry-level position. You can usually obtain this role right after finishing school, or you might get an entry-level job if you’re building a new career in a different industry. In an entry-level position, you’ll gain the skills and experience needed to achieve long-term success in your field. When acquiring this level of experience, consider building a network of reliable coworkers and managers who can become valuable references for future jobs.
Related: How To Change Careers
After gaining a few years of experience in a specific field, you’ll become qualified to start applying to intermediate- or associate-level jobs. With this level of experience, your employer will be less likely to supervise you closely, and you may find more opportunities to work independently. This stage might also allow you to obtain some leadership opportunities. For example, after spending four years demonstrating your leadership skills on a team of web designers, your employer may promote you to the team lead.
If you’ve reached a mid-level position, you will likely oversee the goals and achievements of one or more departments. Mid-level employees usually hold managerial roles within their company and ensure the day-to-day operations of an organization are running smoothly. They often report to higher or executive-level managers who may not personally oversee the specific objectives of each department.
4. Senior or executive-level
To obtain an executive-level position, you will usually first need to work in the same field for many years and gain extensive experience in a managerial role. In this type of position, you’ll set overall goals for your organization, set policies and procedures and communicate with stakeholders. Earning an executive-level job often requires significant networking and proven skills in your industry.
How to choose jobs that match your experience level
When searching for jobs, you’ll find that most job descriptions have a label that explains whether that posting is intended for entry-level, associate or experienced candidates. Follow these steps to determine which experience level applies to you:
Consider the number of years you’ve spent in an industry.
Research the company.
Look at the qualifications instead.
Consider internships or work experience in other industries.
1. Consider the number of years you’ve spent in an industry
If you’ve just graduated or completed an internship, consider looking primarily for an entry-level job. Even if the job posting asks for one or two years of experience, it’s worth applying to anything that closely matches your qualifications. You might also benefit from finding an entry-level position if you’re switching to a different industry. This can ensure you gain all the skills you need to advance in your new field quickly.
2. Research the company
Different companies may have different definitions of experience levels. For example, one company might advertise an intermediate-level job posting that requires four years of experience, while another might only need two. You can also look at a few of a company’s employees’ professional networking profiles, noting their job titles and how long they’ve been with the company.
To make sure you fully understand a company’s experience requirements, you can also try to contact a manager or human resources coordinator who works there. Explain that you’re interested in joining their team and would like to clarify the skills and experience the company expects of its employees.
3. Look at the qualifications instead
You may still be able to obtain the job you’re interested in even if you don’t have the same level of experience listed in its posting. Review the job description carefully, especially when reading the preferred skills and qualifications sections. If you think the skills you’ve gained closely match those that the company asks for, consider applying regardless of your experience level. You may find that with the right qualifications, a potential employer may still want to interview you.
4. Consider internships and work experience in other industries
Many employers will accept unpaid experience, such as volunteer opportunities and some types of internships, in place of paid work when asking for a certain level of experience. They may also consider past work experience if you’ve switched career paths, as oftentimes many people acquire soft skills that can apply to several industries and roles. When applying for a job, consider making a note of these types of experiences as you create or update your resume.
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