What is Experience?

What do y’all include when asked about your experience on a job application? Or in an interview?

I graduated college in May 2017, five and a half years ago. I started my first “real” job in my field in August 2017, over five years ago. Based on that alone, I should have five years of experience. But that discounts all the work I did before.

In my senior year of college, one of my classes served as an agency (the class is literally called COM 471: The Agency), working with local non-profit organizations to develop a marketing strategy all the way from brainstorming to implementation. I continued working with my assigned non-profit on an as-needed freelance basis for multiple years after class ended. That could count as experience.

I volunteered to help my cousin, who was leading a local branch of a national nonprofit, by building a website, setting up social media accounts, and providing some strategy and content ideas. Was it the best website I have ever worked on? Nope. But it worked for what they needed, and the budget they had.

I served as the “Assistant Scoutmaster of Media and Marketing” for a leadership program with the Boy Scouts. A program I was involved with for years. A new role that was created specifically for me. We launched a Facebook page. I organized an email campaign, and in-person marketing at events, and organized all of our photos and files. Was the email marketing anything close to the automated emails we have no? Not at all. It was me, manually compiling a contact list of leaders who have not sent anyone of the program in years, reaching out, and hoping for the best. But it worked.

If we go way back, I was a Tumblr user. And by user, I mean I built up a following somewhere around 4,000 for my blog. Which isn’t a whole lot, but for a fourteen-year-old posting fan theories, gif sets, and sharing fanart for Supernatural and Doctor Who, it felt like a big deal. We built communities — secondary blogs with multiple admins that were more niche than our main pages. We ran Blog of the Month contests and created a whole new blog just to share good news and happy vibes (think John Krasinski’s pandemic Some Good News, but as a Tumblr blog run by a bunch of teenagers). I developed custom blog themes and helped others edit theirs. When I was on vacation, I made sure my queue was fully set and had friends ready to respond to messages as needed. My initial interests in web design, content curation, and community building can be traced back to 2010s Tumblr. Is it professional experience? Maybe not. But it’s not nothing. (I could also mention how writing fanfiction can be considered writing experience but I’m not going to open that can of worms.)

I used to design birthday cards for my family and friends in Microsoft Publisher. I made PowerPoint Decks for fun, about anything and nothing at all. I had articles published in “The Family News,” the monthly newsletter update we wrote and sent out to the extended family.

If asked for a number, I generally say I have seven years of experience. Five post-college, and combining all the during-school work as two years total. It seems right. But the question still remains, what do we consider “experience?” Does it need to be for a real client? With real money in a budget? Real consequences? Or does building a Tumblr community while I probably should’ve been focusing on my chemistry homework count for anything at all?


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Anne Vaeth

A communications professional trying to turn the jumble of thoughts in my brain into actual words.