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I'm about to interview someone who applied for the same position that I have: Senior Software Engineer.

The candidate is 13 years older than me and has worked in the same position for more than 15 years.

I find this to be extremely fishy and I can't figure out a way to get out of this mindset that I know is not right.

Why is this okay and not a red flag?

  • 484
    Why is it extremely fishy? – user34587 Feb 27 at 8:36
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    See the related question, in which I ask the opposite question (in what I hope is a neutral way): workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/130367/… – Alex Millette Feb 27 at 12:57
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    Why do you think this person has done the same thing endlessly? Why isn't it possible that they worked on a succession of different projects? I was at a company for about that long and I worked on a pretty wide variety of projects. I certainly wasn't doing maintenance on one program for 15 years! – DaveG Feb 27 at 14:01
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    You say he's a senior software developer. Was there a higher engineering position available with his employer, the one where he'd still get to write software? If not, and if his only other option was management, perhaps he actually enjoys programming, and didn't care to do a completely different job, one focused on people and organizational issues. – dbkk Feb 27 at 14:23
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    How do you know that the candidate "has worked in the same position for more than 15 years"? I've been with my company for 20 years now and have been advanced about four times, but only list my current title on my resume. – Michael J. Mar 2 at 22:30

14 Answers 14

653

How about you wait for the interview before you judge that person...

  • Not everyone is interested in climbing the corporate ladder

  • Maybe there was no other position suited for them at the company

  • At least it tells you that they are good enough to be kept around for over a decade

  • Maybe they love what they do so much that they don't consider other positions

  • Higher positions require leadership and "people" skills and maybe it's just not in their nature

  • Some people don't want to have too many responsibilities

  • Many are just fine with being told what to do and then carry on with their work

  • Maybe they needed a stable income for personal reasons without the risks new and more demanding positions bring to job security and time management

  • 5
    Indeed. I'll retire from state work in 10 years, at age 59. I'll be looking for a new job. Will 30 years with the same employer, and 15 of those in a basically unchanging position (software developer) have a negative effect? – ivanivan Feb 28 at 18:34
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    I would like to add to the point Higher positions require leadership and "people" skills and maybe it's just not in their nature that many good employees have people-skills, but may simply enjoy other aspects of the job more, so did not wish to transition to management. – SeldomNeedy Mar 1 at 1:53
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    keep in mind that "At least it tells you that they are good enough to be kept around for over a decade" is absolutely flawed in some countries. In the Netherlands for example if you're a lazy & worthless dev, you just want a permanent contract and never leave. It's an easy thing to do and you have to be really bad to get fired once you get to that level :-). – Mathijs Mar 1 at 10:12
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    @SeldomNeedy: also management need not necessarily be considered "higher". Sometimes it's the people who can't cut it as really good developers who move sideways to management, or business analysis or testing or so. – RemcoGerlich Mar 1 at 10:13
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    Also, reason for Higher positions require leadership and "people" skills and maybe it's just not in their nature, it is possible people have both of those skills but just don't enjoy the drama that comes with performance reviews and generic management BS – Bleh Mar 1 at 20:15
251

Why is this OK and not a red flag?

So you seek someone who will do Software-engineering for you. The candidate you have at hand has a lot of experience in that area. He has achieved the highest rank possible where his main occupation still is software engineering - long ago, and he stayed with it.

So chances are:

  • He really loves what he is doing.
  • He is good at it and does not do all the expensive rookie mistakes.
  • He does not want to get into a leadership-position and make expensive rookie mistakes there.
  • He is really loyal and if treated right, will stick around your company equally long
  • You won´t have to do expensive recruiting and training of a new developer in 3 years

Go to see for yourself. Try to find out especially if he is open and interested in new technologies, ideas and engineering-concepts and if he can communicate and share his knowledge with the rest of the team.

  • 48
    Being a person similar to what OP is asking about, I agree with your points. There are, however, things to look out for with such persons as well: the candidate might have a problem with change. Some people react poorly to changing working conditions and this may be a reason he stuck for so long. So be sure to look out for indicators whether this is the case. Also, he might have been working with "old" technology for a long time and may be missing skills necessary for the position in question. Luckily, people with so much experience often learn the missing pieces faster. – DarkDust Feb 27 at 11:35
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    BTW, I did try to get into management and found that I suck at that. It made me unhappy and I was poor in that position. So I happily remain a senior developer and continue doing a job that is fun to me and where I think I'm actually valuable. – DarkDust Feb 27 at 11:36
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    @DarkDust: I totally agree with you. That´s why I wrote the Try to find out ... section. Also, if you employ someone like this, see that he don´t starts to build himself the "ivory tower" i.e. making himself indispensable. – Daniel Feb 27 at 12:11
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    @DarkDust: Another warning, the candidate may just not be that good. I've met my share of "senior" software developers who had simply repeated their junior years over and over, and never demonstrated any kind of seniority except graying at the temples and teenage kids (which doesn't mean they were not diligent in the tasks assigned to them). – Matthieu M. Feb 27 at 13:00
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    @MarkBooth That's my point entirely, Mark. One company's VP of Programming is another company's Jr. Developer. Titles are meaningless and role definitions change from company to company so it is unwise to assign too much meaning to a person's previous title. You have to look at experience (both through the details on the resume and an in-person conversation) to determine how someone's history lines up with your current company's definition of the role. – DanK Feb 27 at 19:06
170

I will answer this from the perspective of personal experience.

I've been in the same position for 12 years now. Here's why:

When I started, my wife gave birth to twin boys. The economics of childcare dictated that she stay at home with them for several years. When she went back to work, I needed to remain in a stable as secure position for a couple of years until her career path stabilized.

Guess what. She hated that job, and started searching for another. This set back my timeline another couple of years. Then the world discovered something that I already knew. My wife is awesome. She was poached, and given a much better job with another company. Again, we decided that I should wait a bit before looking for new prospects.

Why am I so complacent in my current position? I work for a small company with great people. There is no other position here for me. There's no one else to manage. I work 9 to 5, and maybe a weekend a year. They accommodate my involvement in Boy Scouts, giving me time off for camps.

My career has progressed. I'm now advising the company what we should do, rather than being told what to do. My salary has more than doubled over the time, and I'm receiving regular bonuses and dividends on top of that.

What has not changed is my title. And for the most part, that doesn't matter.

Am I not ambitious enough? It depends on how you define ambition. My family is certainly better off having me home evenings and weekends. My wife's career has taken off, partially due to my support. Our family has thrived because of the stability and security this company provides.

At this stage, I'm scanning what's available. And if the choices I've made raise a red flag during an interview, then so be it. Their loss.

  • 31
    14 years in the same place here. A couple of reasons for staying so long: First, I joined when they were a small company of 30 or so people, there's now over 3000. My job title has inevitably changed a few times in that time, and my role has become more specialised, but it's worked for me - allowing me to evolve into a more specialised role as the company has grown. Second, Management really doesn't appeal to me. I have zero interest in managing people or going into meetings all day. Third, my commute is a two mile jog along a scenic canal - why change? – timbstoke Feb 28 at 12:55
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    This is the best answer and comment yet real world experience alway rules, I can only second that, having been there done that as well – Matt Douhan Mar 3 at 3:03
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    Thirteen years on the same job for me. Previous job was 15 years. Marriage, kids, etc limit mobility. I've stayed because A) it's the closest large IT employer to our home, B) when our kids were younger they needed evening transport, and since I worked close to home I got to do that, C) my wife has moved between jobs multiple times while I've remained stable, D) I like going in earlier and leaving earlier (which also fits in with B) while my wife prefers a more traditional 9-5, E) I get along reasonably with my co-workers. So why move? Just to say I moved? That's just silly, IMO. – Bob Jarvis Mar 4 at 2:17
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    I find this answer inspiring. – dyesdyes Mar 6 at 13:29
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  • Consider that "the same position" doesn't necessarily mean the same team, tech stack, project or even the same office. I personally work with a different client every 6-12 months, and I've learned a lot of new technologies, gotten significant raises, moved to a different branch, all without my job title ever changing. That might not be the norm, but it happens. Ask the candidate about some war stories, they might surprise you.

  • Some companies offer job security and new toys. At my last client (key player in a very lucrative segment) all but one or two of my colleagues had been at the company for 10+ years. Yes, there were a handful that disliked having to learn new tech, but they were a minority.

  • They might have been very invested in the job or the company. Could be a project they championed, improvements to the workflow they made over time, or perhaps the company was a successful startup?

  • They might have stayed due to a disability. That doesn't mean they're not good at their job, but many jobs and companies might not appeal to them. E.g. I work with a lot of autistic colleagues who are fantastic at what they do, but avoid job hopping because prejudice and unstable working conditions are a big risk to them.

  • They might have had other responsibilities to friends, relatives, their family. Someone they had to care for, or someone they wanted to spend more time with. An extra hour of commuting per day can make quite the difference, or maybe they needed flexible hours.

  • Good additional points that go along with the top answer. – person27 Mar 1 at 6:37
  • Indeed. I have been at the same company for 30 years, with the same title. I have changed jobs many times in that time, covering many different hardware and software combinations, and I am still learning new stuff every day. – RedSonja Mar 1 at 8:16
63

Why would it be a red flag? "Senior Software Engineer" or "Software Engineer III" could be the highest position in his company that still was able to code, so because of that, he maybe didn't want to become a manager or whoever else.

Not every company creates fancy positions like "Senior Ninja Developer" or "Wizard JS Dev" just in order to give promotions.

  • 5
    I know quite a few people in this position (I am one). If you actually love to code, why on EARTH would you take a management position? I did not get into this business to manage, I love coding. It's like promoting an artist to managing a small business that paints houses--any artist who would take that promotion was never an artist to start out with. +=1 – Bill K Mar 4 at 18:08
  • A fortune 500 company I worked for had a separate track for people who would otherwise be promoted into management, but didn't want that. I think they called them fellows, but it's been 15 years. This provided continued growth opportunities, and they could remain productive doing what they were best at. – rcollyer Mar 5 at 16:09
36

The most important question, in my opinion, is: Can you afford to ignore applicants?

For development jobs, at least here in Germany, there are so few applicants, that I interview everyone who is not obviously unqualified. I cannot afford to skip over someone based on too little information.

For other jobs, when you have a hundred applications for one opening, it makes sense to filter more strongly, based on criteria you ideally have defined it advance.

Yes, what you describe is uncommon, but it's not necessarily bad. In fact, thirty years ago, profiles like this were the norm. At the very least, you have someone who is easily motivated and loyal.

  • 3
    @LuckyB There are thousands of jobs open in Germany. I never thought I'd say this on SE, but - just google it. If you are serious, start learning some basic German, but most IT jobs require English. – RedSonja Mar 1 at 8:19
17

Why is this OK and not a red flag?

It depends on the company's culture but for some, it is a red flag.

The company I work in, a large one, considers that a candidate like this is not someone to invest in and will call contractors for profiles like this, preferring recruiting people able to "climb the ladder".

For some other companies, it is a type of profile they seek in order to have experts / senior developers.

TLDR: Ask your management to clarify the profiles they want you to find and if they consider it as a red flag.


Will the candidate influence the team in a good way? Or will the candidate seem bored and show tiredness for doing the same thing endlessly?

You don't have enough informations to answer this. See the candidate, interview him. Only knowing he has been in the same job for years is not enough.

  • 2
    How does that answer the question? – Daniel Feb 27 at 8:49
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    @Daniel It answers the title and the Why is this OK and not a red flag? question. It is OK only if company's recruiting policy allows it to be OK. – LP154 Feb 27 at 8:54
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    To expand on this, it isn't just general hiring philosophy it's also longer term planning as it applies this role. Is management expecting a glut of hiring to be done at the next rung up the ladder in the next 3-5 years? If so lack of interest in upward mobility could be a mark against this candidate as you may be better off grooming for future requirements. – Myles Feb 27 at 14:48
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    Moving from a Senior Developer role to management is not "climbing the ladder", it is jumping over to a different ladder. The candidate has already climbed the ladder to the top. That's not a red flag, it's a strong candidate, and one that likely won't abandon you to move into people politics rather than developing great software with their years of experience. Any company that doesn't "get that" is getting it grossly wrong. Your conclusion is correct, however! – Lightness Races with Monica Mar 2 at 14:58
15

Keep in mind some companies, particularly smaller ones, don't issue formal titles. I was a 'Software Developer' at one company for a number of years, but despite that title, I was effectively 'Head of Engineering'. So lesson - titles don't always mean a lot. Just because the candidate was in the same 'position' for 15 years, it doesn't mean they were doing the same job all that time.

  • 13
    I've spent most of my working life no more than vaguely aware of my job title. – StrangerToKindness Feb 28 at 15:22
9

The accepted answer and the other higher rated answers are fine. One more though: The applicant stayed a long time at his current company. Chances are high, he won't leave you after a year to do further job hopping. So your investment in training a new employee are rather safe.

7

Several of these answers are very good, and the advice given - talk to the guy and find out more - is correct.

I'll add one other way to look at it: Ignore the title. Pretty much ignore (*) how many years he's been in the same position.

Instead: Look for growth in the person. In his skills. In his scope. In his responsibility. In his knowledge.

None of these necessarily correlate (negatively) with "time in grade" whether that means the same title or the same company. (Especially title.)

Most of the time people (in growing companies) do in fact want to hire people who grow - and who have room and interest and ability left to grow more.

But also some people are looking for a person who has great knowledge/skills/experience and can be a advisor to the company's management, and/or a mentor to their employees. Past personal growth is suitable; future personal growth not necessary.

And finally some people are looking for a person who can come to work week after week and do a job reliably, and if the person is happy in a stable position, that's fine.

Those last three paragraphs describe wants/needs of the employer, not the candidate. And they can be properly evaluated against evidence (or lack of it) of the candidate's history, and his expressed preferences without reference to his title or how long he's had it.

(*) In some cases - fairly rare IMO - you might want to know more about how and why he's been so many years in the same position. There are certain companies - large ones - known for an "up-or-out" policy. Not too many that I'm personally sure of, but they exist. If you happen to know (for sure) that the candidate's employer is in this category then it might be worth looking into how he had such a stable (i.e., flat) position for so long. (But be sure the employer behaves that way or you'll be cutting yourself off from a potential good hire without cause.)

7

In many company structures the only way to "advance" above title of senior dev. roles is to become team leader / go into management / "boss" role in some sense.

Not everyone has a personality suitable for this or even wants to do this.

  • Indeed and also, depending on location, there is likely to be an abundance of applicants with management / team lead experience whose salary requirements are well below a senior developer's. So for the company it makes sense to hire managers externally rather than "promote" developers – ᆼᆺᆼ Mar 2 at 2:05
  • What makes most sense depends on what these peoples function really is, of course. – mathreadler Mar 3 at 13:19
6

I wonder what makes you think of this as a red flag.

Obviously, your pre-set expectation is that people need to change jobs, preferably upwards, on a semi-regular basis. Question that assumption and check how much it is a result of your environment. I worked close to (but not in) the advertisement industry for a short while, long enough to catch that in that segment, people expect that you change your job and company every two years about. If you don't, that was weird and possibly a red flag in that environment. In fact, people changed despite being perfectly happy in their current position, for reasons of cultural expectations.

Other industries are different and don't have such a dynamics. Many craftsmen for example work in the same position and company for decades and nobody thinks anything about it.

But if not just your personal but also your company model is based on career and upwards mobility and people changing all the time and this persons model is based on stability and growing in a position instead of into a position, then your cultures might not be a good fit.

If you want to look objectively at the candidate, do it without your preconceptions. Other answers list many good reasons. I just want to say one: In 15 years, neither this guy nor his employer saw a reason to question or change their relationship. Many people don't manage that long a marriage. For me, this guy would be at the top of my list for this reason alone.

3

I will highlight one of @DigitalBlade969 points

Not everyone is interested in climbing the corporate ladder

I have been offered numerous times to change jobs (either completely switch, or to move up and expand my responsibilities).

I always said: I am an excellent [C-position] and would only be a good or mediocre [another C-position]. This was fine for the companies.

I was also asked that as job interviews, and I answered the same. This was well received (I explicitly discussed that point a few times after the interviews which were the most interesting ones).

I switched companies twice in 25 years, and within the last one (which I am at for 11 years) I never changed my role.

I am not sure how much experience you have with hiring or management but the fact that someones changes or not his role often is neither a good or bad indication on its own. Please note that I added I am not sure how much experience you have with hiring or management at the beginning of the sentence not to be condescendant but rather because you asked the question (which is very good) and that this is a really good opportunity to learn.

2

As someone who has been with exactly three companies since I started working in my field in the early 80's, it isn't the least bit strange. I'd might still be working at the company I started at, except they cancelled a project and all of us working on it got the axe.

The job met all of my personal criteria including the work being interested, liking the people, a pretty good paycheck and close to home. The place I work now fits the same bill. I like the stability that comes from long term employment at a company. And I'm sure it's a primary factor for many people.

And remember that someone doesn't have to get a new job to learn and keep learning new skills. I've been at this company for over 10 years and despite being seasoned veteran in the field, I've grown immensely in my time here.

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