Job Tenure:  To Have or Not to Have – That Is the Question

What is an acceptable length of job tenure?

What does length of job tenure tell employers about you? Employers look to time on the job to tell a lot about you as a candidate. Your length of job tenure says volumes about your ability to get along with others and make a significant contribution. The length of your job tenure also shows your learning process, experience level, and potential loyalty.

What Is an Acceptable Time on the Job?

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Eighteen months is a tolerable length of employment. Most experts agree an 18-month tenure shows you were able to survive one round of annual reviews. Still, staying at a job 18 months is not exactly stellar. The actual and opportunity costs of replacing an employee is estimated at much more than 150% of a worker’s annual salary. An 18-month stint at a company means, by all accounts, the company may have broken even.

In professional positions, however, it is highly unlikely that eighteen months is the break-even point. Geoff Smart and Randy Street in their book, Who, assert that taking into account actual costs and the loss of productivity, the average hiring mistake costs a company fifteen times the employee’s salary. Given what’s at stake, employers will scrutinize tenure very closely.

What is a reasonable length of tenure for professional positions?

Respectable tenure for professional positions should be measured in years not months, so think of the bigger picture your length of tenure paints. Be certain a job change fits your long-term goals before you hop out of the picture. Explaining to a future hiring manager you left a job because you were approached with an offer you couldn’t refuse gives you a certain allure of being in-demand, but also paints you as somewhat disloyal.

As a professional, when you choose to leave, time your exit gracefully. If you’ve been working on high-level or critical projects for IT, Engineering or other professionally scoped work, it is essential not to leave at a time that will put your company in a bind. A project that relies on you to be a domain expert, Subject Matter Expert (SME), or Project Manager would dictate that you give ample consideration to your company. Remember, your length of job tenure tells a story about your integrity and value as a future employee.

How much time on the job makes a stronger candidate?

acceptable-job-tenure-2Most hiring professionals refuse to look at candidates with more than three jobs in a ten-year period. Five to seven years on a job is ideal for engineering and professional level positions to give you the job tenure to qualify as a domain expert (if you have superior skills).

As an  Subject Matter Expert, you need to have enough experience to constitute “Lifecycle Experience.” Employers do not take “side work” for SMEs seriously – they want lifecycle experience where you’ve had “post mortem” time to understand where mistakes were made.

Can too much time in the same position at the same job hurt my resume?

The short answer? Yes. Five to seven years in a job signals employers to consider you a reliable, competent worker. More time than that without a promotion, however, triggers warning lights that your work is average. Mediocrity is the kiss of death.

Too much time on a job can also limit your reference options. Consider consulting or side contracts as a way to widen your network and avoid placing all of your reference eggs in one basket.

It’s also important not to let your promotions erode your skill set. If you are marketing yourself as an industry specific subject and domain expert, promotions to leadership may signal your skills are rusty. Side contracts and hands-on experience within your department can keep your skills up-to-date.

Define Your Career Path on Smooth Ground and Rocky Terrain.

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The best advice I can give to any worker–currently employed or searching–is to be very clear about your career goals and find the path that will help you reach your goals. Take opportunities that align with your goals.

If you’ve been laid off when the job market is down, resist the pressure to quickly change positions or take the first available option. If you are an “A” Player, you will be able to find an “A” situation, so take the time to ask questions and vet your future employers as they interview you.

If you don’t place yourself in the right position, you could be setting yourself up for tenure problems a year down the road when you “just can’t handle your boss or the company anymore.”

Your length of tenure should be part of a calculated career strategy that balances your goals and financial ambitions with showing employer loyalty, adding to the value of the company, and improving your own skills and marketability.