Before the 1990s it was not unusual for someone to work more than 30 years for one employer. We use to make fun of the fact that they would receive a gold watch at their retirement party. I think it’s ironic that today many of us don’t even wear a watch, we check our cell phone or Fitbit if we want to know what time it is.
Talk to a millennial and the idea of working for one employer for more than a decade is definitely the exception and not the norm. My dad’s gold watch is something you see in the Smithsonian Museum with 8-tracks and electric typewriters. As I speak with baby boomers that have worked at one place for more than 20 years they often apologize for staying with one employer for so long. Potential employers are concerned that it shows a lack of ambition. Unless I regularly advanced within my organization, your perceived “dedication” can be viewed as a negative trait when looking for a new job.
I can guarantee you that some hiring managers are thinking this: If you stayed with an employer for more than 20 years, then what has happened now that you finally decided to make a change? Have your talents become obsolete and you’re afraid they’re going to kick you to the curb? Your new boss is 20 years younger than you and you don’t like the idea of working for someone the same age as your son or daughter? You see the writing on the wall and you’re afraid you’ll be a victim of the next layoff?
I’m sorry to report that age discrimination is alive and well in the job market. The idea of loyalty and dedication to one employer is no longer viewed as an asset. If anything, potential employers are suspicious that you’re in trouble and you’re running away from something instead of running to something.
Here’s my advice:
It’s all about the future. Your new employer wants to know how you’re going to help them be successful in the future. When I was working for Occidental Petroleum, a manager needed an engineer with at least five years of experience, and I found him several great candidates. The individual I thought was the strongest candidate was at the bottom of this hiring manager’s list and I asked him why. He said he didn’t have enough experience. I disagreed and pointed out the years of experience on the candidate’s resume. The hiring manager’s response was, “No, this candidate doesn’t have five years of experience. He has one year of experience five times.” I suddenly realized that just because you’ve done something for an extended period of time it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve done it well.
If you have stayed with one employer for more than 10 years, then you need to convince your new employer how the skills you’ve acquired are going to help that organization be successful in the future. It’s nice to hear about your past accomplishments, but you need to paint a picture that demonstrates how those skills will benefit your new employer. It’s a polite way of asking, “So what have you done for me lately?”
The good news is I have seen people make successful career transitions beyond the age of 50. As you prepare for your next job interview, think about how your skills and experience are relevant going forward. You’re past accomplishments are important only as they relate to meeting tomorrow’s challenges. Do your homework and ensure you have a clear understanding of how your skills will benefit your employer.
It’s not about how long you’ve stayed in one place; it’s about the skills you’ve acquired that make you a valuable asset to future employers. Instead of a gold watch, I would appreciate free internet service for the rest of my life. Now, that’s a great retirement gift.