How to Deal

Loyal for too Long?

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By Lily Garcia
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, May 13, 2010; 2:54 PM

I have been working at the same company for the last 15 years, essentially my first "real job" out of college. I have had 3 positions with the company and am now a member of management. Due to the sinking industry I am working in, I am struggling to make a career change. I have worked in sales, recruiting, and training, but get the distinct impression that the field I work in and the fact that I have been with this company for so long, actually elicits raised eyebrows and "wow-that is a long time." I have actually witnessed it in interviews. I know it is a difficult job market, but I feel I may never be able to get another position. Is there anything I can do to make myself appear more marketable versus having the industry I am in (print media) be the first thing people see?

I typically hear from job seekers who are concerned that their resume reflects too many short-term engagements. They worry that this pattern will cause prospective employers to wonder about their ability to commit to a job or career path and flag them as "flaky" or a "job-hopper." I find it interesting that you face the diametric problem of possibly appearing too attached to one organization and industry.

Outside of academics and government, an employee with a fifteen year tenure is a rare find. The "raised eyebrows" you encounter, therefore, might simply be an acknowledgement of this odd fact rather than any particular judgment of it. But let us assume, for the moment, that your long-term commitment to your current employer is actually counting against you. What prejudices ¿ legitimate or mistaken ¿ might a prospective employer have regarding an applicant such as you?

For one thing, a hiring manager reviewing your background might question whether you are serious about changing jobs. Why would you risk losing the stability and predictability of an employer you know so well to take your chances on a new company? The obvious answer is that your industry no longer holds the promise that it once did, but you should not assume that everyone knows this. Without being negative or overstating your case, you must explain to prospective employers that you have solid reasons for wanting to transition from your line of work to theirs. Gather facts regarding growth and opportunities in the industry you are targeting and explain briefly why you no longer see equivalent potential in print media. This will not only dispel any concerns regarding your desire to change jobs, but it will also set you apart as a well-informed, resourceful, and business savvy applicant. Going through this exercise will also force you to assess whether the industry into which you are trying to move actually offers the greater stability you seek.

A resume such as yours might also cause a prospective employer to wonder whether you have the wherewithal to succeed in a highly competitive corporate environment. They might assume that, during the fifteen years that you have spent with your current company, you have grown soft and complacent and that you therefore lack the hardiness to make it under actual pressure. You should proactively address this potential concern by positioning yourself as an ambitious and dynamic professional. Your decision to remain with the same employer for your past three jobs does not necessarily mean that you took the path of least resistance. It could also mean that you have had significant achievement, which you have intelligently leveraged into new opportunities. Emphasize the fact that you have worked in three very different areas of the company. Use the story of your progression within the organization to illustrate your ability to isolate your strengths and interests, devise a coherent career development plan, and network effectively to reach your goals.

To ensure that you present the strongest application possible, you should also organize your resume foremost according to functional areas and achievements rather than job history. (For an earlier article touching upon this concept, see http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/08/AR2009070803063.html) The first part of your resume should be a series of headings describing your major areas of professional expertise, followed later by a reverse chronological listing of your jobs, educational institutions, and other relevant information. Underneath these functional headings, list specific quantifiable accomplishments (for example, "Provided live ethics and compliance training annually to more than 450 employees," rather than "Provided corporate training"). Such metrics-based statements carry far more impact that the general recitation of activities that comprises a typical resume. In addition, you should tailor your resume to the requirements of each individual job for which you apply. Depending on the position and the employer, you should emphasize certain aspects of your job history over others. If you are applying for a training job, list that experience first and think about how to draw a direct connection between projects you have completed and the needs of your desired company. No doubt, this is tedious work, but it is well worth the investment of time.

Finally, you should proudly discuss the impressive length of your tenure as a sign of your capacity for professional loyalty and stability ¿ both of which are highly desirable and hard to find. You have proven your ability to grow with an organization that invests in you by reinventing yourself in various roles. In fact, you might not even be tempted to look elsewhere now were it not for your desire to transition to a different industry with a brighter outlook. At a time when the median tenure of employees is about four years, this counts for a lot.

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for more than 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail HRadvice@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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