On the Job

How to Stay for the Long Haul

By Kenneth Bredemeier
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, April 18, 2008; 1:45 PM

With the shaky economy, job-hopping is common these days, by necessity. But if you're tired of always looking for the next job a year, or two or three down the road, how do you get out of that rut and find a place where you might work for decades? That's what this job-hopper wants to know:

Are there special tips on how to stay at a job for a long term? I have been a professional since graduating from college seven years ago and already have had four jobs. When I go to interviews, employers ask for candidates to give "more than just one year" of service to them. Well, I really want to deliver, but sometimes I wonder how much employers are willing to meet employees halfway. Are employers looking out for their employees by creating an environment where employees would want to stay?

Someone recently brought to my attention that maybe companies are not really interested in keeping employees long-term because they would have to pay retirement benefits. Do you have any tips or wisdom that you may have to impart to me, a self-proclaimed job-hopper in desperate need of rehabilitation? I want to stay somewhere for 20 years.

Steve McElfresh, president of HR Futures, a Palo Alto, Calif., human resources consulting firm, advises this worker to assess the status and performance of any potential employer as well as his own approach to work.

He says that any worker ought to "research the company and what they do, their style of employment. Do they churn staff or do employees stay long-term?"

Then, he says, a prospective employee "ought to look at the long-term prospects for their product. If it's government consulting, that's likely to be a product that's around for a long time. If it's a high-tech consumer product they go through those pretty quickly.

"Change is more likely than not, but you can still make some best guesses, even though the big bang product of 2008 will not be in 2011," he says.

But aside from looking at a possible place of employment and its performance, McElfresh suggests that this worker "look at himself" and define how he approaches work, all in an effort to create a clear record that you are a valued employee who deserves to be able to stay with one employer for an extended period.

"The minute you take on the mindset that the company owes me, you're dead meat," he says. "If you're just doing the same thing every day for 20 years, you'll be out of a job."

So workers, he says, must ask themselves, "How do I renew my capabilities? Get yourself in a position where everyone says, 'Boy, am I glad George is still here.' "

Kenneth Bredemeier has six years of experience writing about the workplace. On the Job, a column addressing real worker questions about office relationships, corporate policies and workplace law, is written exclusively for washingtonpost.com. To submit a question, e-mail onthejob@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.

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