How to Explain Why You Stayed in the Same Job so Long

If you’ve been fielding a bit of push-back from people saying you’ve stayed in one job too long, you’re not alone. Let me start by saying; there’s no such thing as the ‘perfect candidate’. Forget profiles on paper, all humans have imperfections and they’ll show sooner or later. Rough career edges won’t always be deal breakers, as few hiring managers look to employ impersonal know-it-all robots anyway. You’re great just the way you are.

Now that you’re feeling a little loved-up and relaxed with your qualms somewhat quashed, it’s time to get realistic. The thing is, the jobs market is so competitive these days that you might be the perfect fit for a role, but you’ll never even come close to having the opportunity to prove it. Why? Hiring managers and recruiters are inundated with applications for every open role they have, which means they have to go through a ruthless weeding process to arrive at a high-quality shortlist. And yes, there will be casualties.

When you are one of a hundred applicants with similar skill sets, factors like the length of time you’ve spent in your job becomes important. In the same way that serial job-hoppers will have to explain why they move between jobs frequently, those who’ve stayed in one job for many years will also have some explaining to do.

Is the old norm the new negative?

Gone are the days when staying with one company for life was the done thing. Different people will have different ideas as to what’s ‘too long’ in one job. Some say 5+ years is ‘getting up there’ into dangerous territory, whereas some are less lenient and point the finger at those with any longer than 3 years a piece. Nowadays, if you’ve been in the same job or with the same company for a many, many years, longterm commitment and loyalty don’t always immediately spring to mind. Instead, hiring managers can become suspicious of your long tenure:

  • Salary and pricing. Are you too expensive? Staying with one company implies you’ve been looked after pretty well. If you’re great at what you do, but been with just the one company for a number of years, you’ve likely received multiple promotions and pay rises in order to keep you there. Can your new employee afford to buy you out? On the flip-side, are you not expensive enough? If you haven’t received any pay rises and aren’t on a competitive wage, questions might be asked as to why you a) haven’t received monetary compensation for your hard work over many years, and b) why you haven’t secured another role that pays more.
  • Stagnation. Moving jobs means dealing with new challenges and pushing yourself to adapt to a number of new responsibilities. If your career trajectory (on paper) appears to have plateaued in your current position, it can raise questions about your drive and motivation.
  • Inflexibility. Moving jobs requires you to adapt to new environments and alter your approach to things, as well as build relationships with new people.  Being with the one company implies a certain level of comfortability, and potential inflexibility.

While all of these points may be completely untrue, it’s worth getting ready to explain your decision to stay with your current company for such a long time. Recruiters and hiring managers will want evidence that:

1. You have been constantly challenged

It’s important to have clear examples of how your role has evolved over time, and how you have managed an increasing level of responsibility over the years. Highlight how you have been promoted, invited to complete secondments or switched departments or locations. Report increases in the size of your team, and new projects you are / were involved in. It’s important to show how your career trajectory has continued to move upwards.

2. You’ve added value

Use statistics to show the value you have added to your company over time. Whether it’s increases in revenue or profitability, or major changes / transformations you’ve made. Bring to life how you have helped better the business.

3. You have great loyalty to your company

There’s rarely an appropriate time to badmouth your existing employer. If you have been with one company for a long time, it is admirable to maintain respect for your workplace and demonstrate that is has been great loyalty that has encouraged you to stay put, not being ‘stuck’. This is a great time to talk about the extra things you’ve done with your role – perhaps organised charity events or been involved in internal committees.

4. You have a great network and long-lasting relationships

If you’ve been operating in the one market for the one company for a long time, you should be able to demonstrate how your reputation among your clients / colleagues reflects this. You should be seen as the ‘go-to’ – a real asset with in-depth experience. This is a great time to reference character / career referrals and recommendations. It’s also a great time to talk about your commitment to creating and sustaining longterm relationships, which is a highly valuable skill.

5. Your salary has been under negotiation

You need to have a clear hold on your financials, and be realistic with your expectations. Be ready to explain what salary you are on now, and how your salary has changed over time. Showing regular increases will work in your favour, as it tells the story of an upward trajectory quite clearly. However it’s not always that simple, so if you feel you’re currently underpaid, have clear reasons as to why. Remember – another business won’t always take a chance on you and make up for the fact you’ve been underpaid in your current role. If a lack of salary increase is why you’re looking to move, maybe a sidewards step is one you need to take in order to open up further opportunities. If you’re too expensive for the rest of the market, perhaps it’s worth working out whether a new opportunity or moneyis a higher priority.

6. You’ve got big career aspirations

Talk about your career aspirations, and how your current job has fitted into the grand plan. What did you hope to achieve with that role, and how far have you come in reaching your goals? You need to show you’ve been in the driver’s seat of your career the whole time, and that staying was a decision you made for particular reasons, not one that was forced upon you because you couldn’t leave, even though you wanted to.

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below?

By Phoebe Spinks

Account Executive at Link Humans, download our 12 Essentials of Employer Branding eBook now.