How to Talk About Experience

How to Talk About Experience

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”

Eleanor Roosevelt, former First Lady of the USA

There are countless situations when we need to or want to talk about our or others’ experience(s). This post is going to teach you useful vocabulary for such situations, and also help you brush up on appropriate grammar. (When do we say “experience” and when is the plural form “experiences” used? The post with the answer is here.)


Imagine yourself in a job interview. Naturally, the interviewer will ask you about your work experience at some point. Remember that if you want to focus on something that started in the past and is not finished yet, you need to use the Present Perfect (e.g. I’ve always been involved in education) or the Present Perfect Continuous (e.g. I’ve been working for my current company for 5 years. (I still do)).

If an event or a situation has no connection with the present, use the Past Simple (e.g. I worked for the company for 5 years. (I don’t do it anymore)).

Dialogue 1:

– Tell me a little about your experience and what you’d bring to this role.

– Ever since I was young, I’ve always been the organized one of my family, and I’ve been a people person for as long as I remember. In my previous job I helped lead a team of five to deliver a 3-week sales project a few days ahead of schedule. I’d like to bring these things here.

Use the Past Simple for the specific time in the past (ever since I was young) since when something has been happening or has been the case (I’ve been organized). Also, use it for something that’s no longer the case (I helped lead a team).

Dialogue 2:

– What experience do you have in this field?

– I have created several systems that are still in use to this day.

Remember that when we talk about something we possess or have at the moment, we use the Present Simple (e.g. I have experience in project management). But you’d say “I’ve gained much experience in project management in the past 2 years.” That’s because the situation is connected with the present – the speaker focuses on the fact that he/she is more experienced now, and the 2-year period might become a longer one, since “the story is not over.” Read more about the use of the Present Perfect here.

Useful collocations

When talking about your work/professional experience, you may find the following adjectives useful (other vocabulary you may want to remember is in bold in the example sentences):

  • considerable: You need to gain/get considerable experience to work as a director.
  • long: We have long experience of dealing with such problems. 
  • wide: She has wide experience in teaching kids.
  • good: She didn’t get paid much but it was all good experience.
  • valuable (= useful): That summer he got some valuable experience working in a tax office.
  • invaluable (= extremely useful): Working here gives these young people invaluable experience.
  • relevant: Both candidates for the presidency were short of (= lacked) relevant experience.
  • unrivaled /ʌnˈraɪv(ə)ld/: We offer unrivalled experience to nearly 1000 scientific and technical staff.
  • first-hand (= gained by doing something yourself): She has no first-hand experience of running a school.
  • hands-on (=practical): Don’t underestimate the importance of hands-on experience. 
  • previous (= past): Do you have any previous experience of this type of work?
What an amazing experience!

Other expressions

Of course, professional experience is just one kind of experience because anything that happens to you, or any situation that you are involved in is also an experience. Read the stories below for experience-related and other idioms.

Story 1:

It’s funny to look back on how our story began, more than 13 years ago. We were very young back then, and we didn’t know much about life, but we’ve always stuck together through thick and thin. We had out ups and downs, but the latter are long-forgotten. I’m happy to say we’ve weathered every storm and ended up being best friends. I’m grateful for all the trials and tribulations because they’ve only brought us closer together. So, my advice is be there for your pal through it all.

  • to look back on sth. – to think about sth. in the past
  • to stick together – to remain close together and support each other
  • through thick and thin (≈ through it all) – under all circumstances
  • ups and downsa variety of situations and experiences that are sometimes good and sometimes bad
  • to weather the stormto not be badly harmed or damaged during a difficult period of time
  • to end up to be in a particular place or state after doing sth. or because of doing it
  • trials and tribulationsthe difficulties and problems involved in sth.
  • to be there – to be available to provide support or comfort for sb.

Story 2:

After university, I was turned down by lots of companies before I was finally taken on by a firm selling farm machinery. I thought it was a nine-to-five job but I was wrong. I had to work all hours, and my boss was constantly checking up on me to make sure I was hard at it. To make matters worse, we were dealing with some difficult farmers. Once I realized that I wasn’t cut out for the job, I decided to hand in my notice. But before I had a chance, they gave me the sack – they realized I was hopeless!

(from “Idioms and Phrasal Verbs Intermediate” by R.Gairns and S.Redman)

  • to turn sb. down – to say “no” to sb. when they apply for sth. or offer sth.
  • to take sb. on – to employ sb.
  • nine-to-five – relating to normal and regular working hours
  • to check up on sb. – to watch sb. to make sure they are doing their job
  • to be hard at it – to be working hard
  • to make matters/things worse – to make a bad situation even worse
  • to be cut out for sth. / to do sth. – to have the necessary qualities and ability for sth. / to do sth.
  • to hand in your notice – to formally tell your employer that you are leaving your job
  • to give sb. the sack – to tell an employee that they can no longer work for you because of bad work, their behavior, etc.

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