The Problem with "Collective Experience"

  Photo  by Brenda Clarke/  CC BY   2.0

Photo by Brenda Clarke/ CC BY 2.0

As part of an effort to establish credibility among clients and prospects, a company might make the claim, “We have 34 years of collective experience.” You see this type of statement all over the Web. The problem with these claims, however, is that under scrutiny they devolve into an empty and somewhat ridiculous math exercise. In the end, counting up “collective experience” of staff members does not mean much at all.

Let’s say a four-person company called Acme Professional boasts this 34 years of collective experience. The founder of has 14 years of experience in her field. Her partner has 10 years of experience. Each of the two other staff members can claim 5 years. These 34 years average out into 8.5 years per employee.

Meanwhile XYZ Services, a competitor to Acme Professional, also claims 34 years of collective experience, but this firm has only three employees. Doing the math, that means the competitor averages 11.3 years of experience per employee. Should I be more impressed? Should I chose XYZ Services over Acme Professional? Perhaps.

In any case, soon Acme is going to start gaining on XYZ as long as both firms’ employee numbers stay the same. Since it has four employees, the following year Acme will boast 38 years of collective experience, but XYZ with its three employees will be able to point to only 37 years. Now is Acme winning? It seems so, but I don’t really know. XYZ’s years-per-employee number is still better. The confusion is causing my head to hurt.

This collective experience business gets into even more absurd territory when you consider large corporations. For example, Apple currently lists 47,000 U.S. employees on its website. For argument’s sake, let’s say the average years of experience per employee is nine. Apple can now boast it has 423,000 years of collective experience. That’s a big, impressive number, but it seems kind of odd considering that the company began in Steve Jobs’ garage less than forty years ago.

The best way to talk about collective experience is to not talk about it at all. That’s not to say experience claims are irrelevant, but to make them meaningful, it is best to put the calculator away. For example:

  • “Acme Corp. has served customers since 1974."
  • “Jane Logan has worked as an executive consultant since 1987.”

As you can tell, I also prefer using specific dates when possible. It allows marketing materials to stay current no matter what year it is.