What Employers Mean by Equivalent Experience

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When an employer mentions “equivalent experience” in a job posting, it can mean either experience in place of some educational requirements or non-paid experience. Equivalent experience can include work as an intern or volunteer in place of paid work experience. The job posting should specify what counts as acceptable equivalent experience.

What is Equivalent Experience?

If you have the required equivalent experience, you may be considered for employment without the required bachelor's or other college degree or certification. A job may require a high school diploma or the equivalent. In this case, the equivalent is typically a GED or another equivalency certificate.

For example, a job announcement may state a required certification, a high school or college degree, or some defined experience in the field.


There is no legal requirement for employers to accept experience in place of education. It's up to the hiring organization to determine if experience is an acceptable substitute for a degree.

Examples of Equivalent Experience

There isn't a standard for what is considered equivalent experience. What's acceptable will be determined by the organization that is hiring. Here are some examples of education and experience equivilancies:

Sample Education and Experience Equivalencies
Job Requirement Equivalent Experience
High School Diploma 4 years of work experience
Vocational/Trade School 1 year of related work experience 
Associate Degree 2 years of college or related work experience
Associate Degree High School Diploma plus 4 years of experience
Bachelor's Degree 4 years of related work experience
Bachelor's Degree High School Diploma plus 8 years of experience
Master's Degree Bachelor's Degree plus 2 years of related experience
Master's Degree High School Diploma plus 12 years of experience

Experience in Place of a Degree

In many cases, while a degree is preferred, some combination of coursework and experience, or else extensive related professional experience, is acceptable for consideration for a position. It particularly applies to military candidates, whose training and professional experience in the Armed Forces are often translatable and desired as “equivalent experience":

  • Six (6) months of experience as a unit secretary, ward clerk, medical office assistant, or nursing assistant will be accepted in place of the required coursework.
  • BA is required, MA preferred, or in place of a degree, 10+ years of relevant experience.
  • BA/BS degree is preferred​, though long tenure as an executive assistant at a top firm can offset this.


For federal government jobs, you can often substitute specialized experience, or experience related to the work to be performed in the job, for education or to qualify for a higher grade position.

Experience in Place of Work Experience

Experience other than on-the-job experience may suffice for work requirements. For example, an employer may state that they will consider a degree in a related field, coursework, leadership experience in clubs, volunteer work, internships, or community service in place of formal work experience:

  • A minimum of 6 months’ work experience in sales, marketing, customer service or management, or equivalent experience.
  • Two years secretarial and office administration, or equivalent experience with Microsoft Office, PowerPoint, Excel, Word, Outlook, and QuickBooks.
  • Bachelor's degree in Finance, Accounting, or Business Management, or the equivalent coursework in a related specialized field and two+ years of related experience, or a Master's degree.
  • Two to four years successful professional or volunteer experience in fundraising, grant writing, and volunteer coordination for a non-profit organization, with demonstrated ability to generate at least $.75 million in annual donations.

Mentioning Equivalent Experience When You Apply

When you apply for jobs, it's important to clearly state in your applications, cover letters, and interviews exactly what constitutes your equivalent experience.


Emphasize the components of your experience that are most related to the job and that prove that you have the core competencies to excel in the position.

In your resume, be sure to put the experience most closely matched to the posted requirements at the beginning of the document, if possible. This “pride of place” positioning will help seize the hiring manager’s interest and encourage him or her to read through the rest of your resume. You might consider using a resume summary statement to highlight the pertinent skills.

Using Your Cover Letter to Explain Experience

Your cover letter is also an excellent place to elaborate on how your experience matches the requirements of the job. Of course, if you land an interview, you will then have the opportunity to make your case in person. Thus, you should make sure that you are prepared to talk about all of the hard and soft skills you have that make you a fantastic candidate for the job.

  • Hard skills include teachable proficiencies such as computer knowledge, foreign language proficiency, word processing, or a degree or certification in a specific career field (for example, accounting, management, or business administration).
  • Soft skills, also known as “people skills,” include capabilities like leadership, motivation, oral and written communication, problem-solving, flexibility, teamwork, mediation, time management, and work ethic.


If you are interested in the job, always give yourself the benefit of the doubt as you assess whether or not you possess the equivalent experience.

Don't screen yourself out—leave that decision to the employer after you have made the very best case for your candidacy you can. Just make sure that you can present a plausible argument for how your equivalent experience applies.

You don’t want to waste your time applying for jobs that are clearly out of your reach and not a good match for your skills.

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  1. East Tennessee State University. "Equivalences for Education and Experiences." Accessed June 8, 2021.

  2. Kansas State University. "Educational Equivalency." Accessed June 8, 2021.

  3. USA.jobs. "How Many Years of Experience Do I Need To Qualify For a Job?" Accessed June 8, 2021.

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