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Job Stability isn't What it Used to Be

Dear J.T. & Dale: I worked for a company for 20 years before getting laid off. Recently I was contacted by a recruiter, and she asked, "Why did you stay in the same job for so long?" I was completely thrown off. Isn't it obvious? It was a well-paying job with great benefits. That's what I told her, and I haven't heard from her since. What was I supposed to say? - Robert DALE: First, there are dozens of reasons not to hear from a recruiter, most having nothing to do with you or your work history: The company decided not to fill the job, or filled it internally, on and on. But let's assume for a minute your answer was a deal-breaker. J.T.: There are different versions of the truth, and the one you gave wasn't what the recruiter was looking for. She wanted to hear that in those 20 years, you were paying attention to your career and the need to develop it. Otherwise, she would assume that you spent those 20 years just plugging along, keeping your job. In this competitive job market, there isn't a single employer that will hire someone like that. Next time, talk about your career progression and the expertise you gained, and how that made you more valuable over time. DALE: As Shakespeare put it, "the past is prologue." You need a story that makes sense of your career path, what it was and will be. Speaking of paths, when I go hiking and lose sight of the trail, I've learned to stop, turn around and observe the route Ijust traveled; often, doing so makes sense of where the path has been and how it logically carries forward. The same should be true of your career. Look back and make sense not just of where it's been, but of where it's going. Career stability is no longer revered; change is. Consider this: Say you meet someone who mentions that he has lived in the same house for 20 years. Does that make him seem dynamic? Is he going to embrace change? We've reached the point where you need to have as good a reason for staying in one job as you do for job-hopping. Feel free to send questions to J.T. and Dale via e-mail at advice@jtanddale.com or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019. © 2012 by King Features Syndicate, Inc. Job stability image from Shutterstock