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Explaining Long-Time Employment at One Company

Dear Mark: I have been looking for work for about three months now. The last job I was in lasted for twenty years before I got downsized due to a merger. One recruiter told me recently she'd have trouble placing me because employers might think I'm too set in my ways, or that I don't have much initiative seeing as I stayed put instead of going out and working in different places to expand my experience. Does this make sense? Am I actually being punished for showing loyalty to my former company? There must be a way to spin this in a positive light. Please help!

-- Lyola P., Calgary, Alberta

Dear Lyola,

It must feel like you're getting hit with a double whammy: dealing with being terminated from a job after 20 years of service, and then being told by someone you've turned to for help in looking for employment that you stayed there too long. Ouch.

No doubt as you continue to look for work you'll encounter people who cast a dim eye upon long-timers such as yourself. You've already expressed some of the concerns they'll cite. Here are a few more: you only know one way to do things; you expect a job to last for the rest of your life; it'll be tough to teach you new and innovative skills…

Of course, not everyone has this negative attitude. There are many employers who value loyalty and commitment. Who understand that your being able to stay with a firm for that long shows that they likely had a good reason for keeping you on (e.g. you were a solid employee).

You can help make your case by doing a couple of things. One is to focus on employers who have a reputation for valuing long-serving staff. Another is to make sure your resume tells a powerful story of progressive responsibilities, roles and achievements. You want to convey that you were not stagnant but instead took on different assignments and were promoted from time to time. Hence you should structure your resume so that it clearly shows that you had a number of different titles and/or departments during your time there. Here's A partial sample of how it might be laid out:


EMPLOYMENT HIGHLIGHTS

Company X, Calgary, Alberta 1987 – 2007

Manager, Parts and Service 2004 – 2007

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Assistant Manager, Parts and Service 2001 – 2004

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Something else you can do is to actually play up your longevity in your cover letters and interview answers. Bring attention to your commitment, reliability and trustworthiness. Talk about how you adapted to different situations and gained a variety of skills. Also, try to get references from people you worked with in more than just your most recent position, to show that your reputation has prevailed over time.

There's no way to hide the fact that most of your work history has been with a single employer. So use this to your advantage by telling a compelling story of dependability and flexibility. You'll still encounter those who are skeptical. However eventually you are likely to be interviewed by someone who sees your work type of work history as an advantage.