What do job ads mean by “progressively responsible experience”?

The original article appeared here

A reader writes:

Can you shed some light on the term “progressively responsible experience”?

I see it in jobs ads all the time: “Minimum of 5-10 years of progressively responsible professional experience is required.”

I get the idea that they want to see some sort of pattern of growth, but what does that actually need to look like?

Does it stop being “progressively responsible” if I take a lateral move sometime in that 5-10 year period? What if I have 8 years of experience in the same job, but then moved up for the last two? Does that count?

Basically, at what point does the proverbial clock reset?

I think you’re looking for more of a formula than exists for this.

There isn’t really a formula. It depends on the jobs and the context.

It basically means “we’re looking for someone who has continued to take on new challenges and responsibilities, and whose employers have trusted them to do that, and whose experience is therefore deeper than someone who’s been working at more or less the same level the whole time.”

What that actually looks like could be all sorts of different things. It could be the person who took on more and more people management or client management responsibilities in her department for several years, but didn’t get a title change until recently. It could be the person who steadily got promoted every two or three years for the last decade. It could be the person who took on increasingly difficult projects, meeting loftier and loftier goals over time.

If you think about it from the employer’s end of things, they’re saying, “We want someone whose work is good enough that employers have responded by trusting you with more and more, and you’ve spent the last 5-10 years expanding your skills and taking on increasingly important pieces of work. We don’t want someone who has tread water for the last 5-10 years — someone who basically repeated one year of experience 5-10 times.”


To answer your specific questions: No, a lateral move somewhere in the last decade doesn’t cancel out a pattern of progressively responsible experience. But eight years of experience in the same job and then moving up in the last two years is a little more grey. Did your role change at all during those eight years? Did you take on new responsibilities, ones that you wouldn’t have been capable of earlier on? Or was it basically the same job for all eight years? But — complicating this further — even if the answer to the last question is yes, it still might not be prohibitive, depending on what those two years of growth afterwards looked like. It’s really about the whole picture, and that’s going to be very specific to your particular job history — as well as the specifics of what the employer is looking for, which isn’t necessarily fully captured in “years of progressively responsible professional experience.”


Ultimately, most of the time this kind of thing is a guideline, not a rigid barrier to applying if you don’t perfectly match it. Most of the time (with a few exceptions), employers are trying to convey a basic idea of the general profile of person they’re seeking, and you should take it more as that than as a hard-line stance.