Can one hurt his career by bad working experience? By bad experience I mean a job with little challenges skill-wise, bad work practices within the company, and things like that. Let's say you have this sort of job for 2-5 years. I am in a similar position and I am having hard time finding a another job for the moment. Can this be damaging to someone in this position?

  • Can you sell yourself on your ability to recognize the short-comings of your current position with improvements you made along with suggestions?
    – user8365
    Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 14:51
  • The answer might depend on what "hard time finding another job" means. Are you getting interviews or no responses at all? If you are getting interviews then you need to spin your answers into a positive response. ie. I took the job and realized that I was over-qualified but rather than just leave I wanted to make sure that my being hired was of benefit to the company so I had a goal of accomplishing XYZ first. If you aren't getting responses then your skills may indeed have gone obsolete. A harder problem to fix, but initiative with self-learning could help in that regard.
    – Dunk
    Commented Apr 9, 2013 at 21:41

8 Answers 8


Executive Summary

Yes, it can hurt your career, especially if you have been in that position for several years.

One-Time Error, or Erred Judgment?

People make mistakes, and the world is usually pretty forgiving of someone who can own up to their mistakes and learn from them. There's the story about Thomas Watson Sr. (former CEO of IBM) who had an employee tender his resignation after a mistake that cost the company $10 million. Watson allegedly rejected the resignation saying, "You can't be serious. We've just spent $10 million dollars educating you!"

The key is the learning part, and 5 years is an awful lot of time to take to learn your lesson...

What Staying Says About You

If someone knew the real content of your current job and was interviewing you, how could you sell yourself to them?

"Well the salary was good enough, and I was comfortable since there wasn't much stress or challenge."

*"I'm not so quick on the uptake -- it took me years to figure out I wasn't using my skills!"

"I didn't think I could do any better elsewhere."

If you knew and stayed, I'd question your motivation. If you didn't know, I'd question your judgment. If you knew and just didn't bother to change, I'd question your drive.

So How Do I Dig Myself Out of This Hole?

So assume there's a black mark against you when you apply to a new job. How do you show that you are worthwhile?

Start a Non-Work Project

Showing that you are actively doing something outside of the office that is challenging you and using your skills can give you something to show off even if the work in the office was nothing to brag about. It shows you are motivated and can showcase your talent.

Keep Learning

Even if your work isn't challenging you, that doesn't mean you can't use some of your time at work to keep up with where you should be. Maybe your job doesn't require you use those skills, but so long as it isn't taking all your time to do the routine work, you may as well use some of that time to educate yourself. That way your skills aren't limited by what you do at work, and shows that you are pushing to improve (self-motivated).

Work on "Soft Skills"

When it comes to applying for jobs, it's important to have a bit of an ego. You are selling yourself, and to do that well you need to believe in the product (or just be a damned good snake oil salesman). Working on soft skills is a good way to do this -- learn how to be confident in front of people, work on selling yourself, and keep your self-respect up. This will make the interviewer be more willing to overlook some of your faults because you seem better than your work experience.

As with many mistakes in life, this one can be overcome, but it will have a negative impact. Be prepared for that, and show that you are capable and willing to overcome those hurdles.


A professor of mine once told me that no amount of money should ever convince me to stop my professional development. If a job did not allow me to grow and become better at my job then they were shorting me one part of what I should be paid for.

Yes, it can hurt your career if you most recent job you stagnated. Normally this job would be the job you referenced as most of your credentials, now you need to reference a job you had 5 years ago! Just giving good examples for a standard STAR interview can be hard if you are trying to detail something that old.

  • Generally an interviewer wants to both be impressed by your actions and results but also needs to find it believable. If you have not done something in 5 years and try to remember your story it is going to greatly impact the wow factor and it can easily impact the how believable the story is as you have a hard time remembering details. They are generally the standard for larger companies and every small/medium company I have interviewed at also.

Are you done with your career, probably not, but this will require a bit more work no your part. There is no way to know that this is your problem for sure though.

  • 1
    For those not in the know (like I wasn't), a STAR interview is "Situation, Task, Action, Result" where they try to figure out how you solve problems or somesuch.
    – jmac
    Commented Apr 9, 2013 at 0:48
  • @jmac sorry for not being explicit about that, I appreciate your clarification. Generally an interviewer wants to both be impressed by your actions and results but also needs to find it believable. If you have not done something in 5 years and try to remember your story it is going to greatly impact the wow factor and it can easily impact the how believable the story is as you have a hard time remembering details. They are generally the standard for larger companies and every small/medium company I have interviewed at also.
    – Kortuk
    Commented Apr 9, 2013 at 13:43
  • What do I need to do? Just upvote? Did that work?
    – jmac
    Commented Apr 21, 2013 at 23:35
  • @jmac you got accepted, and your answer, was very good, quite outclassed mine, just was the fastest gun, It might be designed for new answers, I never know with badges!
    – Kortuk
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 0:01

The answer to this question is really dependant on the field you are in.

In science and technology, if you fall behind significantly from what the industry standard is it can be incredibly difficult to "catch up." I have friends and former colleagues who stayed with their old technologies and are now finding that as business migrates away from their legacy technology, that there are not many opportunities in the marketplace. Senior professionals who are current with the latest technologies are always in demand. But there also seems to be a glut of experienced professionals who are not current that are forced to choose between a lower paying position to get experience with current technologies, or a senior position in their niche. The problem with the niche position is that you fall further and further behind, and eventually many find themselves forced out before they are ready to retire. Here the experience gained is correlated with the technology you have worked with more than how long you worked in technology.

In Business and the "Liberal Arts" professions this seems to have an opposite effect. The experience gained even in less well run companies is valued equally as experience with well run companies, sometimes even more so. I suspect that the reason is that unlike technology, the processes are fairly mature and there so few innovations that experience from 10 years ago is likely applicable today. For this reason companies value an employee that can show longevity at a company, since the experience gained most often correlated with how well you will do in a similar type of role at another company.

However if you have a target field you wish to work in it is almost always going to be preferable in the long run to be working in that field than to be in a better position outside of that field. It is easier to move up and transfer experience from inside than to take your experience from outside and break in. For example if you want to get a job on wall street, you are better off working for an investment company as a clerk, than working at a call center doing customer service, even at a senior level. The pay is likely much higher and arguably the skills learned in a call center are transferrable to wall street, but you are not making the networking connections, and you are not getting relevant experience in the finance industry. Likewise in technology it is better to be doing something similar to what you want to do, (it COBOL programming) if you want to someday move into a position programming with the modern languages than to be working in Technical support for hardware.

  • 2
    I've awarded the bounty to this answer as it's the only one attempting to answer the "why" for the OP. jmac's is great for what to do but doesn't discuss "why."
    – enderland
    Commented Apr 15, 2013 at 21:26

I think good or bad experiences are defined by how much you learn from them. In a bad work environment there are still plenty of good experiences to be gained. In fact, one of the most common interview questions is to do with the challenges that you face at work, and if you have always worked in an environment where everything works well then it is hard to assess how good your skills are when under pressure or resources are constrained. It also speaks volume for a person to be able to produce good work under trying circumstances, so I would say that it is a matter of being able to separate between things that you have control over (and those that you don't), and also the thing that you can gain from the experiences.


It might not add to your technical skills, but it does add the experience to know when it is time to leave a job, or whether the job is worth accepting. A lesson you should take from this experience is that you can't rely on your employer to help your career. They might say they do, but they don't. It's not why they are in business.

It's up to the employee to expand his/her skills. If you can afford it, use this time to take classes online or in person. It might help boost your confidence to get a certification in something you want to work with. At the very least read a book or do a tutorial.

Be able to go into an interview stating that you were learning something related to your field during your time off. Also, continue to study after you get a job. It is very important that you continue to learn because once you reach your 40s you're competing with people just out of school who know all the fashionable stuff the employer will look for at that time.

My friends in their mid-40s are going back to college to get advanced degrees in order to hang onto the jobs they have, and improve their chances to get a new one if they need to.


Just because you are ready for something new doesn't mean that taking the position was a mistake or that you have stayed too long. Your value to an employer generally increases over time, but at a decreasing rate. Eventually you have delivered all the innovation that the organization is willing to accept, and conversely you have learned about as much as possible. At that point it is time to move on. If you haven't learned anything new in over a year, it is definitely time to go. If a company hasn't learned anything new in over a year, they will soon be out of business.

  • 'A Year' seems to be an arbitrarily picked metric to measure against for improvement. Why not 6 months? why not 2 years? why not 4 hours 23 seconds?
    – user5305
    Commented Apr 15, 2013 at 15:25
  • 1
    This doesn't really answer the question
    – enderland
    Commented Apr 15, 2013 at 16:20

Simply put like with any interview you don't only talk about what you did at your old job; you need to say how your previous job prepared you for the job you're interviewing for. I got into my current job with only 6 month experience in this field that was 4 years ago. So I talked about skills and things I learned from my most recent jobs that would be helpful in the job i interviewed for. Confidence is a big part of nailing an interview.

  • 1
    This doesn't really answer the question of whether this can hurt your career.
    – enderland
    Commented Apr 15, 2013 at 16:20

Do you have major accomplishments from the company which you can place on your resume? If not, why not? No job is a waste unless you allow it to be.

If you can't walk away with at least one major accomplishment from a position you were in, then yes, you have wasted time and may want to be more choosy on the type of positions you take and companies you work for in the future.

However, if your manager came up to you today and asked why he/she should keep you, what is your gut response? What have you done for them? That is what you should be highlighting on your resume. Almost all positions can be salvaged for purposes of work history.

  • 1
    Until you have recieved your first big acomplishment you will never have one. How long is too long to try and get one before deciding is enough is enough? How long is too long before you realise you aren't likely to get a major acomplishment?
    – user5305
    Commented Apr 15, 2013 at 15:23
  • Sometimes you have to make the opportunity for a major accomplishment. Part of any position is becoming an owner of your work and finding improvements in the workflow. Even in fields where there isn't much discretion, minor workflow changes can be made which yield major results.
    – Danielle
    Commented Apr 15, 2013 at 19:03
  • Also, you should know within two years whether the ability to make a major impact os going to be an uphill battle and should reevaluate accordingly.
    – Danielle
    Commented Apr 15, 2013 at 19:04

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .