Dear Lifehacker, I’ve often heard it’s bad to have several short-lived jobs, but what about staying at the same company for a very long time? Does that look bad on my resume, and, if so, how long is too long to stay at any one job? Thanks, Company Cutoff Point
Back in the day, it was considered a sign of loyalty and longevity to stick with one employer for decades and then retire (maybe with a fat pension or a gold watch in return). With today’s job environment, that’s no longer a viable option for many of us. How long you stay at a company can still say much about you as a potential employee, however: Stay too short a time at several jobs and you’ll be deemed a job hopper; too long, and you might be considered unmotivated or overly set in your ways.
I talked to a couple of career experts for advice on this part of your career planning, and this is what they had to say.
Staying Put Without Advancing Could Cost You
Most people change jobs for better opportunities: a higher salary, more benefits, and/or a better title with more challenging work. You can often achieve that in the same company through promotions, but in an era of raise freezes and “you’re lucky you even have a job” mentality, advancement doesn’t always happen and we can end up stagnant in the same position for years because of the job security.
Switching jobs may be the clearest way to get a higher salary and boost your future earning potential. Research suggests you could earn 18 to 20 per cent more as an external hire than through moving up in a company via a promotion.
The other thing to consider is how old you are. In LearnVest’s profiles of workers who have stayed put for many years, the financial advice site notes that salaries tend to hit their plateau when people are in their forties — and finding a new opportunity gets harder past the age of 45. That means if you’re approaching 40, the next few years could be the best time to go for a higher-paying, better status job.
Finally, besides losing earning potential, not advancing can also affect how hiring managers look at you. LearnVest says:
There’s a point at which staying too long at one job — around eight to 10 years — can raise questions about how a professional will adapt to a new environment.
Marketability Is More Important
There’s no hard and fast “time cap” for when you, as an individual, should jump ship, however. Length of employment at previous jobs is only one part of your career picture. As long as you’re advancing your skills, can show you are great at adapting to new situations, and keep building a solid professional network, there isn’t a “too long” limit.
In fact, staying for 10 years or more on a job can also be a positive thing, if you’ve gained seniority and leadership opportunities and have more say in the company. It might say to potential employers that you’re dependable and loyal — two qualities employers love.
IT recruiter Joe Shelton says the key is to stay up-to-date [emphasis mine]:
I don’t think there is a timeframe that is too long to stay in a job. The key is staying up to date in your area of expertise and networking with people in the field. I have seen job seekers that were let go after 20 years and where basically on an island in their fields and they had a really hard time finding a job. On the other end I have seen people who had been in their jobs over a decade who had stayed on top of changes and maintained a great professional network and found jobs really quickly. If you’re happy at your job there is no reason to leave because you’ve been there too long, just make sure you are keeping yourself and your skills marketable.
Executive search consultant and executive resume writer Donna Svei of AvidCareerist adds [emphasis mine]:
The better question is probably how long is too long to work for the same boss. Every time you have a manager change you have a significant culture change you have to adapt to. If someone has been at the same company for more than seven years they should find a way to signal their adaptability on their resume. It might be mentioning their different reporting relationships, participation in a joint venture, leadership of, or participation in, a significant change initiative, etc. You need to show that you know how to enter a new culture and operate successfully in it.
Whether you’re thinking of looking for a new job or not, it pays to continue your own learning and development and look for ways you can grow in your current work.
Job Hopping Might Even Be OK
While we’re on the subject, staying too short a time at one job also sometimes carries a stigma. As career expert Penelope Trunk notes, however, job hopping can actually be good for your career — to maintain your passion, build a network faster, keep challenges fresh, and find what it is you should be doing with your life. With more young people switching jobs every couple of years and more millennials getting into management and hiring positions, job hopping might not be as bad as it was once considered.
So how many jobs is considered too many by some recruiters? The answer, according to the Personal Branding Blog’s Richard Kirby, may be “more than two jobs in the last five years or more than four in the last 10 years.” (Apparently, recruiters and hiring managers assign a sort of “employment date code” to job seekers’ employment histories.)
Of course, this all depends on the culture of the company, your hiring manager’s perspective, and what’s normal for your industry. Shelton says:
As far as short job stints, you really don’t want to have too many jobs that lasted less than a year, it throws up red flags. However, it all depends on the person you are talking to, some baby boomer managers think anything less than five years is job hopping. But as the Gen Yrs become managers, one to three years at one place isn’t generally frowned upon.
In the end, when looking for a new job, the advice for job hoppers and long-time employees seems to be the same: Position and explain your career history in a way that sounds good to the company and puts you in the best light. If you have a series of short jobs, string them together to show your focus and accomplishments. If you’ve been loyal to one place, show how you’ve evolved and continue to keep growing. As with other job searching situations, it’s all about the story you tell about your work.
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