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Advice / Job Search / Resumes

What the Number of Years You've Spent at a Company Says About You, According to a Recruiter

Here’s some insider info: One thing recruiters go back and forth on all the time is what the number of years you’ve spent at a company says about you professionally. And while I can’t speak for all hiring managers, I can tell you all the questions I used to ask myself when reviewing dates listed on a resume, why they made me hesitate, and how you can address any issues right off the bat in your cover letter.

6 Months (or Less): Was This His Choice or His Employer’s Choice?

A common rule of thumb is that you should stay with a company for at least a year, even if you’re not totally pumped about your job. The reality is that, for a number of reasons, some people just don’t end up doing that. Sometimes that means people were part of a big layoff, they discovered the job wasn’t what they expected, or they got an amazing offer that they couldn’t turn down.

How to Address It

There is one surefire way of answering questions about the shorter stops on your resume. And that's to be as honest as possible on your cover letter, even if you were let go. However, don’t harp on the fact that you were only there for a few months. Instead, use this space to highlight what you were able to accomplish in that short amount of time.

Exactly 1 Year: Why Has This Person Bounced Around So Many Times?

Going back to that common “one-year” rule of thumb, some candidates I reviewed really took that to heart. And by that, I mean their resumes were littered with jobs they spent exactly a year doing. While it was up to me to look past this if it was clear someone might be a good fit for a job I was hiring for, it was absolutely something I’d think about. Is he or she actually interested in working for our company, or just a job-hopper looking to continue his or her climb up the ladder?

How to Address It

Here’s the thing—it’s great to be motivated to keep moving up. But if you have a number of one-year stints on your resume, take some time to think about your career story before you apply. Your cover letter is the first (and only, in some cases) chance you’ll get to tell the hiring manager that you don’t consider his company just another step along the way. Emphasize why all of those experiences have led you to apply for this job.

1-3 Years: Has This Person Been Promoted?

This is a really solid amount of time to spend with one company. However, one thing I always looked for was upward mobility, at least in the amount of responsibilities a candidate with this much tenure at a company was given. While that didn’t necessarily mean I was only looking at people whose titles changed over their time with the company, I wasn’t exactly excited about someone who made it clear he or she was comfortable doing the same type and amount of work for three years in a row.

How to Address It

Odds are that even if you didn’t get an official promotion, you were given additional responsibilities over time. So, use your cover letter to walk recruiters through these additions. Titles rarely tell the full story, and most people understand that. Take this opportunity to make that clear—rather than breezing past it in hopes the person won’t notice.

3-5 Years: Why Is This Person Looking to Leave Now?

Considering the frequency with which people change jobs, I was always interested to know more about why someone with this much tenure was suddenly looking to leave a company. There were rarely bad reasons—often these candidates felt they had no more opportunities to advance or be promoted, or they were anticipating a major layoff, or they were looking for a different company, or were trying to make a complete career change. But, I was always curious.

How to Address It

This is another instance where your discussing your career story in your cover letter will make a huge difference. Unless you’ve applied for every job under the sun, you’ve probably been selective about the companies you've applied to work for. Don’t be shy about talking about why the opportunity you’re applying for is exactly the kind of role that would entice you to give up the familiarity and comfort of your current gig.

5-10 Years: Is This Person Bored?

This probably doesn’t need to be said, but 10 years with the same company is a long time. When I was hiring for executive-level roles, I often found candidates who were looking to make a lateral move. And naturally, I couldn’t help but wonder if that person was simply bored by his or her circumstances or the actual work, or if it was something else entirely.

How to Address It

If someone with this amount of experience applied for a job with us, I was really interested in hearing about how excited he or she was about our position or our company’s mission. If neither of those things were clear in the cover letter, I was quick to move on to more passionate candidates. It’s up to you to make that clear by writing lines like: “I spent hours researching how to write a cover letter just so I could apply for this position” or “I have been following your company for years and have been waiting anxiously for an opportunity like this to become available.”

Again, these are not hard and fast rules for how every recruiter will interpret the number of years you’ve spent with a company. However, these are some of the questions that came up whenever I reviewed a resume. While these alone were never disqualifiers for candidates, they did help me shape my interviews. And ultimately, it made it clear when someone would be a huge contributor, and when someone was simply looking to bail on a job situation that wasn’t ideal.

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