Staying too long with the same employer can scare some employers that you may be too set in your ways. Use these tips and tricks to overcome this and related issues.


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Just a few decades ago, most people expected to work for no more than one or two employers in their entire career. Staying with one company for years was not only a sign of loyalty, but also a source of pride. The trend in the opposite direction, however, began many years ago and has accelerated, first with each recession, and then in recent times of sustained prosperity, as corporations implemented strategic downsizing and closed down entire business units if they failed to meet demanding financial expectations.

Staying too long in one job can be viewed as a negative, especially in the fast-paced, youth-oriented information technology, new media, and e-commerce industries. Correctly or not, an employer might infer that you are inflexible, that you lack ambition and achievement, or that there was little demand for your talents. In some cases, they may feel you are simply not in tune with the rapid pace of change in their industry.

How long is too long to stay in one job? There is no pat answer to that question, but there are a number of things you can do to make sure you do not suffer from such negative perceptions.

Mindset

Keep in mind first of all that there are still many employers in many industries in many parts of the country who value loyalty and stability. They understand their obligation to keep their people challenged, and respect and appreciate those who "return the favor" and remain with them for longer periods of time.

Don't overlook the positives of your situation! If you've been with one employer for a long time, it serves as testimony that you've been effective for that employer. They kept you on because you delivered needed results. Sell those results, and your ability to deliver them.

Long tenure also reinforces the notion that you are a compatible individual who gets along with people at all levels inside and outside the organization. That's an important consideration in hiring decisions. So remember, being with one employer for a long time can be viewed as strong testimony to both your overall effectiveness and your compatibility.

It is important to keep your focus on the real substance of your achievements and the development of your skills, rather than get distracted by the surface appearances of how long you've been employed with one company.

Remember that ultimately what really counts to a potential employer is whether you have the skills, characteristics and motivation right now that will enable you to do the job they need done, not whether you developed those skills with one or two or several employers.

Resume

Use a summary at the top of your resume that briefly highlights your major achievements in recent years. Where appropriate, it should also include a phrase that you advanced rapidly in responsibilities, and turned in exceptional performance in a rapid succession of challenging positions or projects.

Structure the resume itself so that graphically a number of different jobs or projects or challenges are highlighted separately. In each of them the emphasis should be on results and achievements. This can be done in an achievement format, where dates are relegated to the bottom or second page, or it can be done in a standard chronological format, with several "achievement" headlines under one position.

Whenever possible, introduce individual units of experience with phrases such as, "Recruited to this position," "Asked to take on one of the company's most difficult problems," "Assigned this challenging project based on outstanding results in previous position."

This conveys the feeling that you are a versatile, adaptable performer, who can easily handle a fast pace and rapid change, and consistently deliver results. It also implies you were in demand, a valid reason for staying with one employer.

Interviews / e-mail / Letters

In correspondence and in the interview, you can turn this liability to an advantage by observing that you've been very fortunate to have worked for an employer that presented one interesting challenge after another, enabling you to grow personally, develop new skills, and move at a fast pace, without having to move from employer to employer.

Point out that you've been a loyal employee who has always moved into positions that addressed the challenges most important for the company. You enjoyed it, and the knowledge that you were making significant contributions was satisfying.

Explain that you reviewed your situation critically every two to three years, to assess if you were in the right place for being handed the most challenges and developing your skills. State that recently, for the first time, you have looked ahead and do not see the opportunities for growth and advancement that you always had in the past.

Conclude by stating that you are confident there is demand in the marketplace for someone with your skills and record of contributions. Add that the principal quality you are looking for in your next employer is that it must be an organization which not only needs your talents and ability to deliver results, but also can present a series of challenges that will lead to increased responsibility and job satisfaction over the long term.

Emphasize that you are not looking for just a job, but a career track in a company where the problems and opportunities are well matched to your talents and experience.

It will be to your advantage to direct the interview to a discussion of the functional areas where they need help. Ask questions that direct the discussion toward the functions that will be most important for the person who wins the job, and when they are identified, relate examples of how you have used those precise abilities and strengths to make significant contributions to your employer.

The most memorable and credible way to do that is through concise situation-action-result format stories which show that you analyzed situations well, took appropriate actions, and achieved measurable results. The actions in particular should show that you assessed situations quickly and correctly, then took actions in rapid-fire sequence, which got the desired results. These stories will demonstrate that you possess the confidence which stems from having addressed these challenges successfully.

You can also ask a question about the personal traits that will be most important in the person who wins the job. By introducing these into the equation, you will help your cause if you are ready to share examples of how you used those same traits to deliver specific benefits to your former employer. You can then point out that you're a close match both in terms of skills and personal characteristics.

Because hiring decisions are seldom made purely on the basis of a logical match between needs and strengths, make sure you have all the intangibles going for you. Project enthusiasm, and show that you've taken the time to learn a lot about the company and the industry.

Actions

Examine your past contributions closely, and prepare several action-oriented stories that demonstrate your personal strengths and get across your talent for moving rapidly to get results and deliver value in the types of situations that the employer can relate to.

Some of these stories can illustrate your abilities in certain job functions, and others can illustrate the personal strengths you think will be important for the type of job you seek. Many stories can illustrate both. All of them should be good examples of your high energy level, initiative, and ability to achieve in demanding circumstances, the very qualities that might be called into question by your having stayed with one employer for so long.

Look for as many specific result indications as possible. Be prepared to give a wealth of evidence in the form of these memorable action-oriented stories which illustrate your ability to correctly size up situations and take actions that get the desired results again and again. This will reassure the prospective employer that you are valuable, ambitious, and determined to do even better things for your next employer.

Develop and coach enthusiastic references from selected individuals you can trust inside your employer organization if you can, as well as a number outside of it, e.g., customers, suppliers, sales reps, consultants, etc., who will be happy to attest to your energy level, action orientation, ability to deliver results, and loyalty. Review your resume with these references, and make sure they keep a copy available to scan when and if they are called.

This step will enable you to make the statement in an interview that, "You've heard about me from me, but you really need to hear it from some of the people who know me best, and I strongly urge you to call them." That will erase any lingering doubts about your staying so long with one employer

Conduct research on any industry and companies you are targeting, using the Internet and/or resources in the Business Reference section of a good library. You might even consider going so far as to write a small article about the major trends in that industry as they affect someone in your function, whether it is general management, purchasing, sales, production, marketing, finance, customer service, information systems, or any other function.

In this way, you are not only showing initiative and ambition, but also creativity and an intense interest in the future of the company and its industry. You're also showing enthusiasm, an important factor in any hiring decision.


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