Q: I’ve heard the regular refrain (usually negative) about millennials being perpetual job hoppers, staying at companies for 12-18 months before moving on. I’m in the opposite situation—I’ve been at the same job for over 15 years. How do employers view these two approaches to careers? Will I be viewed negatively in future job searches for staying put? Does it make me look lazy?
A: If you’ve been at the same company for 15 years, that can be great! If you’ve been in the same role for 15 years, that can be a problem. If so, reflect on your job over the years. Have you been promoted or taken on new responsibilities? Has the role become broader due to company growth? If you are doing the exact same thing that you were doing 15 years ago, it would raise a lot of questions in a job search—and it should raise questions for you. Why haven’t you been given, or looked for, more responsibility? Are you satisfied with your job or do you feel stagnant?
You say you’ve had the same job for 15 years, but jobs often grow and mature over time. The best way to figure this out is to quantify. When you first started, what were you responsible for? How many dollars, how many people, how many projects? Now do the same assessment for the mid-point of your tenure and for your current situation. You may have absorbed increased responsibilities without even realizing it.
Your goal as an employee is to travel on a two-way street—you want to learn a lot (what the organization gives you) and contribute a lot (the value you add to the organization). Millennials get badmouthed because they learn a lot, but they don’t always contribute proportionately. The employer/employee dynamic should be one of a positive, mutual relationship. An employee shouldn’t expect to learn a lot, be trained, and then move on before giving back to the organization. But the opposite situation is detrimental too—if you’ve been in the same job for 15 years, you’ve certainly learned and contributed a lot, but is it the same contribution over and over? Or has it evolved to bring more value as time goes on? This really can be and should be a two-way street.
Will this be cause for concern in a job search? It depends. An interviewer could very well ask, “Why now? What changed that made you want to leave? Do you anticipate being in your next job for another 15 years?” Focus on showing progression. If you can’t demonstrate progression—and your desire for further professional growth—has led you to seek a new opportunity, a potential employer may find it difficult to understand your career motivations.
There may be great reasons for staying in the same position for an extended period of time. Maybe you were caring for young children or elderly parents; maybe you were writing a book or getting an advanced degree. It’s all in how you sell your story and demonstrate how your energy was heavily invested somewhere outside the job. If you can provide a good explanation for how you were spending your time during an ostensible lack of role progression, then you can prove that you are not lazy but that your energy was focused elsewhere for a period of time. As long as you can ultimately show that you developed and excelled at a skill and were adding value—in the job, at home, and through another personal passion—you can shed a positive light on the situation.
So, are the job-hopping millennials right? As with many things, balance is key. Demonstrate your position on that two-way street—you learned, challenged yourself, and progressed, but, crucially, you also gave value back and showed some level of loyalty and commitment to the organization.