Staying Too Long

Staying Too Long

While most job candidates worry about being seen as not committed enough if they have moved jobs a number of times, today I will cover the opposite situation, which is people working in one place too long and how to overcome the negative image of doing so.

As you get older and become more proficient in your job, and especially if you are being well looked after financially and in title by your company, most of us stop thinking about leaving and finding a job somewhere else. And, before you know it, ten years have sped by. I see this frequently among accomplished Bucho-class foreigners and Japanese who have been in a growing company and which is doing well. They have been an integral part of the team and of course imagine that they will continue to do so for many years to come.

Indeed, against such a rosy scenario, what could go wrong? Well, how about some of the following situations - taken from real cases that I have seen ? Do any of them ring a bell for you?

1. The head office (if a foreign firm) gets bought out and the new owners dispatch their Japan head to winnow out the ranks of management. You can be sure that they'll notice you and your middle management salary. Remember, these are the people that are retrenched first.
2. Your Japanese-owned company finally does go public after 20 years of shared pain and comradeship - but you didn't quite get to become a shareholder thanks to a possessive CEO. Then, suddenly the work rules change dramatically. A previously freewheeling and open environment gets bogged down with rules and regulations - whether they're all necessary is incidental, it's the advice of the underwriter that the CEO is listening to. You finally reach the last straw when they reduce your spending approval limit from JPY1m to JPY10,000.
3. Your CEO or main investor decides to dispatch a new manager to take more control of a valuable portfolio asset or department. He/she is worried that your values may not reflect their's and they want more of a yes-man/woman in place. The only problem is that the individual is either foreigner-or age-phobic, or wants to "sweep [out all the old staff] with a new broom" - as the saying goes.
4. A middle management colleague who previously was doing well is promoted above you, and they want you to know who is boss. Money and power can bring out the worst in a suppressed ego, and they can make your life a misery, even if they don't decide to stick the knife in. How long can you take a newly-minted idiot ego telling you how to do your job?

Yes, it's a tough world out there, and you owe it to your family and yourself to stay current and desirable on the job market. Just like the muscles in your body, you need to exercise your job hunting skills on a regular basis, or pay the price.

Further, you also need to think about the fact that for many foreign hiring managers at least, anyone who has stayed in a job for more than 5 years becomes just as much a worry as someone who has been job hopping. It is natural for them to wonder why you haven't moved more often. Are you lacking initiative or self-motivation, are you lazy, or are you incompetent? Just like missing gaps in your work history while you decided to take a 6-month holiday or do a postgrad degree, long periods with one company stick out like a sore thumb on a resume.

So what can you do about this? Do you have to be penalized for loyalty? Well, not necessarily. One simple measure is to break down each position you held in your 10+ years as if they were individual jobs. Actually this is not too hard to do if you’ve been in a Japanese company, since most likely you have been moved around every 3 years to different jobs anyhow. If that's the case, be sure to include a synopsis and your performance for each position, showing clearly what results you were able to achieve. Focus in particular on sales increases, rescued business, dramatic increases in team and market size, establishment of major new company facilities (factories, etc.), and certifications achieved.

Beyond fixing your resume, you need to do something more radical, and that is to get out of your currently comfortable space. Be forewarned and don't let the job title Business Development Manager or Foreign Accounts Manager sit on your resume for more than 3 years. If you have the ability, ask your boss to move you up and over to another department within the next 12 months. Or, if you are stuck, then be sure to try to gain control of a sure-to-be-successful project and claim it as your own by putting in the necessary effort to become the in-house go-to person as the problems start.

Remember to start measuring the base/starting point of the project, and milestones and metrics as you stay deeply involved. This will become a case study of your abilities, and the resulting data will not only look convincing on your resume, it will tell the truth - that you are a capable person and have over come just as many challenges and made just as many achievements in a single company as others might in multiple companies.

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