When It Comes to Working for the Same Company, How Long Is Too Long?

Years ago, a colleague of mine who had held the same title for a number of years went to HR to discuss why she wasn't getting promoted.

"People really only have your job for two years, max," she said, shrugging. "Then they leave and go somewhere else. You've been here, what six years? That's too long. I don't know what to tell you."

Leaving aside for a moment the HR person's possible skill deficit (or at least rusty diplomatic skills) was she right?

In this day and age, when people don't retire after thirty years to a pension and a gold watch, it seems possible to overstay our welcome at a company, stagnating our careers and wrecking our resumes. Lifehacker highlighted the problem when it recently selected this comment thread as the Discussion of the Day:

ILoveMyWRX wrote: "Is it out of the ordinary that in 17 years of working I've only been at two places? I wonder what the average number of companies a person has worked is by age 40? I'll probably still be at two when I hit 40."

Answers ranged from, "Yes, it's extremely odd," to "It depends on the industry," to "Is your company hiring?" (I made that last one up, but you get my drift.)

As I see it, this question, like all academic questions, could have every possible answer. The real crux of the problem is that it's always going to be very personal. If you love your job, you obviously shouldn't leave it just to make sure that your CV looks interesting. Beyond that, it depends on your career goals, your industry and your place in it, the company you're working for, and whether you're continuing to add new skills.

But what do you think?

Tell Us What You Think

We want to hear from you! Can you stay too long in one job? Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter, using the hashtag #MakeItHappen.

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(Photo Credit: Omer Unlu/Flickr)


  1. 4 Donald 01 Oct
    My first real professional gig lasted almost 14 years before NAFTA killed the company. I worked full time there and earned my BS and MA while working at this company. I left 2 months before the company announced they were closing. I loved it there and would probably still be there. I moved to a local government utility and was there almost 9 years and hated the place but it was a reliable place to work. I was making $6,000 more a year when I left than when I started and I was a department manager. They figured I was there and probably wouldn't leave. I left there for a private industry job 100 yards, literally 100 yards, down the road Started out making $10,000 a year more and I was a simple worker bee. Within a year I was promoted into management and given another $10k. Doing good right? I was there for 4 years, won a couple of company awards and was pretty happy. I screwed up. I went to an interview for a senior management position at another company and when my manager found out my "position was eliminated". Technically I was laid off. The company I interviewed at was a really unethical company and I really didn't want the job. I was talked into the interview by a headhunter and when the interviewing company told him they wanted to hire me he tried to convince me to take the job. I wasn't interested. The Headhunter called my boss at my current employer later that day and asked for a reference. Basically he told my boss about the interview and then asked what kind of employee I was. That's when my "position was eliminated". I didn't know the headhunter had contacted my boss and my boss didn't volunteer the information, I found out a year later from a former co-worker that was friends with our boss. Not knowing all the facts of my dismissal, I took the job with the unethical company as a senior manager but when they found out I was no longer with my last employer they decided they didn't have to pay as much as they originally told me nor was the bonus as large. I worked my butt off and once I finished all the enterprise wide projects they needed me to do they laid me off. I did mention they were unethical. They called me in to HR on a Monday morning and told me that the company was experiencing financial difficulties and they were sorry but they were going to have to lay me off. They actually laid off several senior managers including my boss. I was there for almost 9 months. I couldn't buy a job at that time and drew unemployment for 2 months. It was embarrassing and depressing. Finally I found a job as a technician at a wage far, far below what I made at my last job. I worked the third shift 4 nights a week, 10 hours a night. Talk about depressing. I was laid off again after 4 months when the company lost a major contract. I tried to start my own business and was partially successful until the economy killed off my client base. There was simply no demand for my skills and wages were falling. The government wasn't helping by allowing companies to import highly skilled, low wage immigrants. What I loved was their rational for allowing the importation of labor was there was a lack of workers with these immigrant's skills which was BS. Wages are still failing in that region and more immigrants are still being imported. 4 months later I moved to another state and took a low level position at a good company that at least paid a competitive wage but the health insurance took 25% of my pay. Have I mentioned that Obamacare sucks if you are slightly above the subsidy level? I have been here for over 2 years and promoted twice. I would love to say I will be here until I retire but you never know anymore. I have decided that I will never judge an applicant on how many placed they have worked but then again I never did before. Skit happens and insurance under Obamacare sucks if you have to buy family coverage.
  2. 3 Ronel 01 Oct
    I think it is essential to change jobs regularly ( 2 - 3 years). This enables you to work with new topics, new people and new places. Every new experience enriches your ability to act on future challenges. It makes of you a more interesting person, and you can bring to new situations lessons learnt from previous places without having to combat the politics of people involved in those lessons. A fresh start is re-invigirating. You can also re-invent yourself. Drop the negative, build on the positive. This is easier when you are surrounded with people who don't know you. That said, if you are a brain surgeon, perhaps stay for longer than 3 years, please :-)
  3. 2 Joe 18 Dec
    I've only had one job since I left the military and I've been there 14 years now. They seem to transfer me every couple years, I'm on my 5th transfer as a manager for them back to a failing department. Not sure if it's good or bad right now. If all goes well, I could see myself working here for the next 20 years.
  4. 1 Paul 18 Dec
    I have been at my job for 18 years and about to turn 40. Does that make me silly or a reliable employee? I have seen the company grow from small startup to medium player over that time. There have been times when everyone has left and it's just me left. My Dad (retired now) only had 2 jobs his entire life, both for over 25 years.


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