Overstaying a (Job) Welcome: Tales in Lost Earning Potential


lost earning potential

With the unemployment rate still hovering at 7.4%, those of us who are fortunate enough to have jobs tend to see it as a victory. In fact, according to a joint survey conducted by LearnVest and Chase Blueprint™, 6 in 10 respondents felt lucky to be working in this economy.

That said, just because you have a gig doesn’t mean that you should stay in it forever. Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employees today average 4.6 years at any given job. That’s a far cry from the days of putting in your time and retiring from a company that you joined fresh out of college.

But while moving around too much can give hiring managers potential pause, staying at one place of employment for too long can also raise a red flag on your résumé. Translation: Employers sometimes equate job longevity with laziness, lack of flexibility or worse—fear of change. Part of being mindful about your financial progress is reassessing your earning potential, which is hard to do when you’re stuck on one predetermined salary track.

So when is the best time to leave a steady gig? We asked three long-term job holders to grant us a glimpse at their employment history—and then asked Colleen Georges, a career coach and co-author of “101 Great Ways to Enhance Your Career,” for her expert input on how much they’ve truly sacrificed in earning potential … and whether it’s finally time for them to move on.

The Tried-and-True Tech Gig

Paul Diaz, 36, IT Project Manager
Years at his job: 14

When I first started as a contractor at my company in 2000, I was expecting to just work a one- to two-year gig before jumping from company to company, which was typical of the IT field then. But they liked me, so I was offered a permanent job after just one year. At the time, this was great news—one of the biggest things that I liked about the company (aside from having a nice salary fresh out of college) was the fact that they hadn’t had a single layoff in years, which made me feel very secure.

Getting a job at such a large company also gave me the added bonus of being able to bounce around internally. I started off taking support calls for the company’s help desk. Today, I’m a project manager for several multimillion dollar projects, managing up to 50 contractors. Of course, times have changed a bit and we’ve gone through many rounds of layoffs since I started. The scariest thing is that my wife works in the same department, so we literally have all our eggs in one basket—and run the risk of us both being laid off.

RELATED: Unemployed? 9 Dos and Don’ts of Getting Laid Off  

Yes, I sometimes feel like I’ve been here too long. And now that I have my Masters, I could probably make at least $20,000 more, with who knows how much in possible raises elsewhere. But I like my work and my company. Every five years, I also get a few more vacation days, and there’s a lot of flexibility when it comes to summer hours and the ability to work from home—which was especially helpful when my first child was born.

RELATED: Employees Now Say Work-Life Balance Trumps High Salaries

  • Raina

    What an amazing article! Very enlightening and helpful.
    Thank you.

  • mara

    I like this one…I have been at my job just over 1 year and it is nice to know about situations I will encounter in the not-too distant future

  • NatterLiz

    I don’t feel like any of the examples above were that drastic. Many people are “stuck” for a variety of reasons. I wish I could be as lucky as Ruth, who has been able to move up, make bonuses, and get great benefits.

  • Guest

    Apparently, according to this article, the 40′s are the beginning of the death spiral.

    • CareerThatILove

      Thank you!

  • Gracious

    How are people selected for these articles? I would love this type of analysis and advice as I make future career decisions.

    • LibbyKane

      Hi there! We often look for people to be featured in our articles through LearnVest’s Facebook and Twitter (@LearnVest).

  • CareerThatILove

    Yet even more pressure to maintain youth…20s for saving, 30s for jobs, and then life ends at 45. What a culture we live in. One more anxiety-inducing thing to think about! I’d say we’re better off always listening to our inner voices, and knowing when we’re not flourishing in one or more areas of our lives – professionally, financially, etc. Life doesn’t end at 45. Sheesh. With the right attitude, we can always find new opportunities for whatever it is we desire.

  • Linda

    This article talks mainly about professionals in large organizations where the technical skill sets tend to peak in one’s 40′s (learning ability, adaptability, etc). It’s dangerous to stay in a “technical” role for more than 10+ years where the jobs can be easily replaced by younger, cheaper and more eager labor force. However, in any roles that demand GREAT leadership and soft skills (such as executives, sales, business owners), the peak earning period is likely to continue into one’s 50′s and even 60′s. Also, certain professionals are valued more for their experience such as CPA, attorneys and financial planners, however, these professionals still need to be the rainmakers and leaders in order to keep moving up in compensation, etc.

  • Marie

    I really enjoyed this article. I have been wondering how long the average person stays at a job these days – interesting to read about the potential bias against people who stay too long at their jobs, since you always hear about the negatives of jumping around too much.

  • Pounder

    I think this is all very great info. But what about the flip side. I am in my young thirties and have changed jobs once almost every two years. Never because I was fired or let go. I have left on good terms each time and most have offered to take me back should I ever want to return. But at what point is my constant moving become a resume red flag? My moves have been for increasing positions and/or better pay. Is there a down side for not having a long term stay on your resume?