Professional Experience: What It Is & Examples

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professional experience

When you’re searching for and applying for jobs, you will often run into a requirement for a certain number of years of professional experience on a job posting. 

You also may need to list your total number of years of professional experience, or indicate the number of years of relevant professional experience, for a particular job on an application that you’re submitting.

To that end, this article is going to define what professional experience is, share some examples, and answer common questions around professional experience.

What Is Professional Experience?

Simply put, professional experience is your current or previous work experience. It’s paid work that you do or have done in service of a company, whether that be on behalf of yourself (if you’re a freelancer or entrepreneur) or somebody else (if you’re an employee).

What Is Counted as Professional Experience?

There is a little bit of debate as to what is counted as professional experience. Some people argue that professional experience should include all experience that you have that would be relevant to a prospective role or position.

However, the general consensus seems to be that professional experience basically means work experience and, thus, paid work experience is the only thing that would count as professional experience.

A good rule of thumb when debating whether or not to count something as professional experience is thinking about whether or not you would feel comfortable defending what you listed as professional experience if you’re asked about it in an interview.

What is An Example of Professional Experience?

All of the below items are examples of things that could be listed as professional experience on a resume or counted towards the number of years of professional experience that you’re including in a job application:

  • An internship
  • A part-time job
  • A full-time job
  • Contract work
  • Services provided to another company via freelance work
  • Work done running your own company

What Is Not Counted as Professional Experience?

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Given the previous definition of professional experience as being tied to work experience, the following things would not be counted as professional experience, even if they are relevant to the role:

All of the above items could be listed as relevant experience, if a job application asks for that information, or if you want to reframe a section of your resume as “relevant experience” and not “professional experience.”

What Do I Put as Professional Experience for First Job?

If you’re applying for a first job, and don’t have much in the way of professional experience, I would suggest modifying the section of your resume that would list your professional experience and titling it “relevant experience.”

The term “relevant experience” is much more flexible, and can be used to list previous experiences that enabled you to develop relevant skills for the job, whether they were paid or not. 

Items that could be listed in a relevant experience section include things like:

  • Jobs
  • Volunteering
  • Tutoring 
  • Job shadowing
  • Research

This article offers a more in depth guide on a relevant experience section in a resume. And this video from Professor Heather Austin provides some tips for how to write a resume with limited professional experience:

Lastly, if you need to list your total years of professional experience on a job application, and you don’t have any previous paid experience in the form of jobs or internships, then you would just have to put zero in that case.

Professional Experience vs. Work Experience

Professional experience and work experience are synonyms that basically mean the same thing. The expectation for both terms is that you’re putting paid experience that you’ve done in service of a company.

Conclusion

Professional experience is a term that you’re likely to come across when you’re out applying for jobs. It will likely be listed as a requirement on job postings and you may have a section of it on your resume. Hopefully, this article has helped to provide some clarity on what it means and where and how it can be used.

About the author

Dan Slocum

Dan is the founder of Best Fit Work and is a business professional with over 10 years of experience. He has been a hiring and people manager on multiple occasions, and has also gone through the hiring process himself at a variety of different companies. Dan serves as a career counselor on the side. He writes to share content, tools, and resources to help people discover and thrive in their own best fit work.

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