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Consider the following question, which I feel was asked in good faith: Why is working on the same position for more than 15 years not a red flag?

This would imply that, at least to some, a person staying for a long time at a position is a red flag. The question linked asked for counter-arguments.

Here I am interested in reasonings (which may be illogical!) behind seeing this as a red flag. After all, not every interviewer is a Workplace SE reader and it could prove useful to be aware of prejudices before going into an interview.

  • Unfortunately, some people could easily put a negative spin on the reasons given in the answers to that post. – user34587 Feb 27 at 12:58
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    Voting to re-open. While the answers here are duplicates - they are bad answers. The question asks why this would be seen as a red-flag (although recommend removing the final sentence; and only focus on specific reasons it may be a red-flag. If there are none, it can go unanswered). If this question is too broad - so is the other, and they should both be merged into a "Is it a red-flag...15 years". – Bilkokuya Feb 27 at 14:51
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    The question is a strange one, because evidently you know the answer. You said it yourself: illogical biases and prejudice. In particular, prejudice against older people in what is perceived as a young person's industry. (These kids today with their 64 bit virtualized operating systems running on a couple dozen cores don't know how good they have it, and they should stop listening to that so-called music and get off my lawn.) – Eric Lippert Mar 2 at 0:45
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    How could people vote to close this as a duplicate? And how can they call this a strange question? Did they read the last line in the question? Did they read the question at all? – ispiro Mar 5 at 10:48
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I would like to start by saying I do not believe it should be negatively perceived.

However I can see why some people may see it as a negative, here's reasons why.

  1. Someone not looking to progress may be lacking desire in his career
  2. Someone who stays in their job for 15 years could have multiple reasons for staying, negative and positive. For example; The person may be struggling to find a new job, the person is not capable higher skilled positions or simply because they are content and happy with what they are doing.

  3. Lacking leadership and 'people' skills that may be required in different roles. This role that said person is in may suit him perfectly.

As to why I believe the reasoning to have a red flag is flawed. A person who has worked for 15 years and has not been fired must mean that they are a reliable and loyal worker who you can trust to get work done and not bail at any time.

A person who works for 15 years in one company either really enjoys the job and is content or he is in a situation where he needs the job. This latter part of this sentence is flawed because if the person required the job to survive, it would likely be a money problem therefore he would look for higher level jobs (potentially unable to as covered in reasons why it's a red flag).

This is subjective however, if this person has stayed within a company for 15 years they likely developed strong relationships with colleagues and are able to adapt to what I assume would be several waves or employees and work effectively with them.

And as @DigitalBlade969 covered perfectly in the linked question. There are many reasons as to why someone would stay at a company for 15 years that aren't negative.

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If you ask someone over 50, they will likely say "it isn't"

That's because for a very long time, people had one job for most of, if not all of, their lives.

It's only the under 40 crowd that sees it as a negative, and only in industries like IT. A welder is still going to be a welder, a plumber is still going to be a plumber and they're not likely to change jobs for little or no reason. A teacher is likely going to be in the same position... et cetera.

So, the only reason 15 years in the same job would possibly be seen as a negative would be stagnation, perhaps... but even that is a weak excuse.

  • A teacher is (these days) very likely to stay a teacher, but they are unlikely to stay in the same job (or even the same school) for 15 years. – Martin Bonner Mar 3 at 14:53
  • @MartinBonner True. But it's hard to see why that would be a negative unless there was something very specifically bad about that particular school or that particular position. – David Schwartz Mar 4 at 2:35
  • @DavidSchwartz I agree. I was just disagreeing with most of Richard's third paragraph. – Martin Bonner Mar 4 at 7:49
  • @MartinBonner and unnecessarily. – Retired Codger Mar 4 at 13:56
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There are a lot of advantages, but since you asked about disadvantages, here are some:

possible lack of flexibility

A person who has successfully worked in numerous positions has demonstrated that they are able to contribute meaningfully under a variety of circumstances.

Chances are therefore high that the candidate will work well in our circumstances. In addition, in our agile business environment, circumstances might change, so we value flexibility.

possible lack of professional growth

A person that has worked with a variety of technologies has demonstrated that they can learn new technologies quickly. We are currently transitioning to a new technology stack, and need people who can get up to speed quickly.

possible ignorance of cultural norms

aka "bad cultural fit":

Everybody knows that people need to change companies often. Why doesn't he do that? He's weird. I don't want to work with weird people.

(Not a very mature reaction, but then not all hiring managers are very mature ;-) )

Summary

If a candidate remains in his position for very long, it can indicate weaknesses. A good interviewer will want to verify whether these weaknesses are present, for instance by inquiring whether the candidate has learned new technologies, switched teams, worked in different unofficial roles, or has demonstrated a capacity for growth and flexibility in other ways.

Let me stress again that this answer focuses on the negatives only because you asked for that. There are numerous positives as well, and rejecting a candidate simply because they have shown exceptional loyalty to their previous employer would be silly.

  • Another possibility under 'flexibility': 15 years in one company might mean that the candidate is very accustomed to how that company operates, and might not be able to adapt to a different set of processes. – DaveMongoose Mar 4 at 11:36
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It's too vague and subjective, but generally I wouldn't see 15 years at the same job as negative.

A number of years worked is the same as if I asked: Which employee is better? One works 8 hours a day and the other works 14 hours a day.

You really can't tell from just that one metric; it could be that the 8 hour worker is better because they finish the same work in less time or it could be the 14 hour worker is better because he ends up producing better/more work than the 8 hour worker.

Therefore 15 years wouldn't be a red flag or positive, it only has meaning in conjunction with what the person did and accomplished during his 15 year tenure.

The only strong conclusion you could draw from this is he didn't get fired so there has to be a reason why he was able to stay on board.

Thus, if you follow this line of reasoning, judging someone who was working at the same position for 15 years to be a "red flag" is almost certainly premature and due to our own flawed perceptions.

Sidenote:

This is why we have interviews, because just looking at something on paper can't give us everything we need to know about the candidate; flipside this is why it's important for the candidate to paint a narrative during the interview, so the interviewer(s) can judge us, not just on what we seem to be on paper.

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Reasons to stay for long term employment in same position:

  1. Love/"loyal to" the company
  2. Love their job
  3. Other employees are family
  4. No other jobs in the area and not interested in remote/relocation
  5. No position to advance to
  6. Can only advance to a managerial position and not interested
  7. Already getting top pay that can be expected
  8. Comfort/Complacency

The reality is probably a mix of many of these and to varying degrees.

None of these are particularly negative. Even the complacency is not really a negative. Do you want a whole team of people that can't be satisfied without frequent advancement? How would that even work? You can't have 100 CEOs. Workplaces need most people that are happy doing their job and some people that want advancement.

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It might be related to where this position is. Is it a private Company? Government position or state owned Company? At least where im from there is quit a big difference of the people working in private companies and anything related to state/government.

So for a person working in a private Company i would say he got something the Company wants.

For government positions there might be many other reason for keeping this person for 15 years, it can be friendship, politics, not so high requirements from employer. In this case this person might not have enought qualifications to work in a private owned Company or it might be a person who want a more secure job, might not work very well when every hour has to billed to a customers.

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Well, first off, it’s not a red flag unless it is impossible. 15 years as Senior Swift Developer for instance, would be a huge red flag and would indicate that the applicant is lying.

It may, on the other hand legitimately be a yellow flag.

It would be a yellow flag if the applicant is applying for a position that is of a different grade (up or down), and their time in grade doesn’t match expectations.

If they have been a journeyman for 15 years when it typically takes 10 years to move to master and they are applying for a master position, that’s a yellow flag. If they have been a journeyman for 15 years and are applying at an apprentice level, that’s a yellow flag.

I would not consider it a yellow flag if they are staying at the same grade, regardless of how long it typically takes — they have found the one way to avoid the Peter Principal and should be congratulated for that. I would tend to view them as very reliable.

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"Terminal" vs "temporary" positions

Regarding this question, it's worth to note that some jobs are inherently an end to some career ladder, and some are a temporary step by their very nature.

If you're doing plumbing, then a 'senior maintenance technician' is a terminal position where you'd be at the peak of that career and can reasonably stay in that position for decades without raising any red flags. Sure, there are "promotions" possible from that position - you could move on to a supervisory position, or start your own business, but those are different careers. However, if you're working at "apprentice plumber" positions for different employers for 15 years, then it should be negatively perceived, because apprentice plumber is supposed to be something temporary.

Many industries have certain "entry level" jobs that are not particularly desirable on their own, employ lots of people and also act as a gateway to jobs in the same industry which are considered strictly more preferable. Staying in that job for a long time indicates that you never "passed the filter" to get a better position.

However, it should be noted that there are careers where there are no respectable terminal positions nor a standard "promotion path" - successful people are expected to transfer to something else (possibly in the same industry), and people who spend their whole lives doing this will be looked at as failing in their professional life.

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Someone may think that the interviewee is bad at their job.

One possible reaction is that if they were good, they'd have been promoted. Promoted again, etc. and then they would have been able to get an even higher paying job somewhere else when they would have "outgrown" their company. They would have obviously accepted and would actively seek such promotions to better paying roles and better paying jobs at other companies because their reason to go to work in the first place is to make as much money as possible.

I'm not saying that this is a valid reaction, just one that people may have. There are more possible ways someone could interpret this negatively, but I think this is by far the main one.

  • You can always refuse a promotion. Moreover being good in a particular position (let's say senior developer) does not mean you will be good as a manager. Maybe someone that stay 15 year in a position is just happy with his work and like it. Or he simply acknowledge that he will not be good in an higher position. – Gianluca Mar 5 at 11:27
  • @Gianluca Please see the fine print in my answer. – ispiro Mar 5 at 11:33
  • @downvoter So you think that someone who thinks it's bad that an interviewee has been in one position for a long time does not think it's because the interviewee is bad at what they do? Or did you think I'm saying it's bad? – ispiro Mar 5 at 15:09
  • On the other hand you should explain why someone should pay an employee that is bad at what his work for 15 years. – Gianluca Mar 5 at 15:48
  • @Gianluca Even if it were illogical, from the question: which may be illogical!. Or are you saying people won't say what I wrote? Besides, I assume most developers are paid because management can't find better developers for the same pay, not because all of their developers are as good as management wants. – ispiro Mar 5 at 16:10

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