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Career Corner: What Have You Done in the Last Five Years?

– Courtesy photo

By Angela Copeland

There’s a new question emerging in the world of job seeking. It’s something I never expected. It doesn’t happen in every interview but it happens enough that it’s worth mentioning. As you grow in your career, companies expect more. More senior roles require more experience. Job descriptions will ask for 10 or 15 years of experience in a particular field. If you have the 10 or 15 years of experience this can seem like a great thing. You’ve finally arrived!

Throughout your career, you go through different phases. Perhaps there was a time when you were doing detailed, fundamental work (maybe right out of college). There was another time when you learned to manage people or another phase where you learned to managed vendors and cross departmental relationships. Your career has been an evolution.

You go into a job interview, ready to share the 10 or 15 years of accumulated experience that you bring to the table. You finally meet all of the requirements on the job description (or at least most of them). The question you aren’t expecting comes out of nowhere. The recruiter says, “Tell me about yourself.” That part is doable. You’re ready! Then, the recruiter says, “…but keep it to the last five years. We only want to know about the last five years. Recent experience is all that counts here.”

This question has been a bit baffling. The company wants 10 or 15 years of experience and it’s all those years that truly make you qualified. But, if you’ve got to limit your answer to the last five years, you may miss out on half or two-thirds of your experience. It’s one thing to be brief in an answer. It makes sense to be concise but it’s a completely different thing to omit large chunks of your professional background.

It feels like companies are asking for 15 years of experience, packed into a five year time frame. This expectation seems to be an unusually high burden on the job seeker. I have to wonder how this strategy is impacting the companies that are using it. Are they able to find people with 15 years of experience, who have done some of everything in the last five years?

This criterion doesn’t seem to favor young workers or older workers. Young workers don’t have enough experience to meet the minimum requirements and older workers very likely haven’t covered every inch of everything within the last five.

Whatever happened to being able to do the job? When I hire someone, I want someone who can do that job. The details of when or where they got the experience leading up to that point are much less important. A job interview should not be a computer game or a puzzle. It’s an opportunity for a company to find a motivated, experienced person who is dedicated and willing to do the work at hand.

Angela Copeland, a career expert and founder of Copeland Coaching, can be reached at copelandcoaching.com.

August 23, 2019

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Angela Copeland


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