Company Loyalty: Career Starter or Career Staller?

It’s become a common refrain to criticize young professionals’ tendency to job hop practically every other year, so much so that millennials have developed a negative reputation for it. Their willingness to frequently change jobs can convey disengagement at work and a lack of loyalty to their organizations, which employers may view as a serious red flag.

But does the opposite situation raise a red flag? When a prospective employee has been at the same job for 10 or 15 years, what message does that send to employers? In this age of professional mobility and regular job hopping, it’s important to demonstrate growth and progression if you’ve spent a significant amount of time at one organization.

Working at the same company for 15 years can be great—working in the same role for 15 years could be a problem. It’s vital to frame the situation to show development, otherwise what one manager sees as loyalty and stability could easily be viewed as a lack of motivation and stagnation by another. For anyone job searching after a significant amount of time at their current company, reflecting on how their role and responsibilities have evolved through the years is a crucial first step before going into an interview. Think about promotions and increased responsibilities and try to quantify how your role has broadened with the organization’s own growth. For example, how many dollars, people, or projects were you responsible for when you first started, at the midpoint of your career, and in your current position? Being unable to identify these things over a long span of time might raise some questions on the part of a prospective employer: Why haven’t you been given—or looked for—more responsibility? Are you satisfied with your job or do you feel stagnant?

An employee’s professional goal is to travel a two-way street with their company. Employees want to learn and develop skills (what the organization gives them) and contribute a lot (the value they add to the organization). Part of millennials’ “bad” reputation is because they are seen as taking advantage of the development opportunities but not always contributing proportionately. The employer/employee dynamic should be a positive, mutually rewarding 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—being in the same job for 15 years might mean you’re learning less and not adding to the contributions you make.

Will this be cause for concern in a job search? As is so often the case, it depends. There may be great reasons for staying in the same position for an extended period of time that have nothing to do with being complacent or unmotivated. For example, an illness, caring for young children or elderly parents, or getting an advanced degree would be excellent reasons for staying in the same role. As long as you can ultimately show that you developed and excelled at a skill and were adding value—in the job, at home, or through another personal passion—you can shed a positive light on the situation. Ensure you can demonstrate your desire for further professional growth, which has led you to seek a new opportunity, so that this potential employer won’t find it difficult to understand your career motivations.

So, are the job-hopping millennials on to something? Should everyone change jobs regularly? Balance is key. Demonstrate your position on that two-way street—what you’ve learned, how you’ve challenged yourself, and what value you’ve provided. Growth and organizational loyalty do not have to be mutually exclusive: It’s possible to develop professionally while also showing commitment to just one organization.

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