Earning

How Long Is Too Long to Stay at a Company?

Mindy Charski

Millennials have a reputation for job hopping. But our generation may be more loyal than we thought.

While the average worker between 25 and 34 stays put for 2.8 years, Pew researchers discovered as many as 22 percent of millennials in 2016 had been with their employer at least five years. And a Qualtrics-Accel Partners survey found nearly 90 percent of millenials would agree to stay in a job for 10 years if they knew it offered annual raises and upward mobility.

But beware: Staying put can backfire if you’re not careful. On top of missing out on opportunities to negotiate a better package someplace else, working at the same company for too long may actually make it tougher to get hired for a new gig. Here’s how to make sure that doesn’t happen.

1. Recognize the red flags.

How long is too long with one employer depends on your seniority and your industry. But generally, Alex Bury, senior director at staffing firm Kforce, says eight years—nearly twice the average tenure of 4.2 years for all ages.

Normal tenure for senior positions trends longer than for entry level, though. And industry averages can vary. In fast-paced ones like technology, movement is expected. (Google’s average tenure, for example, is 1.1 years.) Conversely, government employees have nearly double the tenure of private-sector employees. Checking sites like LinkedIn to see how long industry colleagues have stayed in one place is one way to gauge what’s typical. (The government also provides general industry data.)

Regardless of what you learn, proactively upgrading your skills—either by volunteering for new projects within your company or taking classes on your own—can ensure your resume won’t get stale. And working in different roles and departments can help assure potential employers about your ability to adapt to new situations.

2. Seek new opportunities and promotions.

An extended stay at one job can give the impression that you aren’t interested in active career growth—unless you can show a solid track record of upward mobility and promotions.

“You want to be viewed as someone who has taken on additional responsibilities and different projects and acquired [new] skill sets,” Bury says. “I tend to find [a candidate who’s been promoted at one company] more appealing than someone who has worked more positions at more firms, but without promotions or increased responsibilities.”

3. Artfully address your tenure in interviews.

When you’re ready to interview for new jobs, Tim Tolan, CEO of executive search firm The Tolan Group, recommends addressing the long tenure first, rather than waiting to be asked, so you can explain how you benefited by sticking around.

Bury suggests phrasing it like this: “The company has done a really good job creating opportunities to expand my knowledge and my skill set within this organization, and I continued to see a career path being laid out for me.” Follow that up by explaining how you took initiative on your own to sharpen your skills and move up the ladder.

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