Career Q&A: How Long Can I Stay at the Same Job Before It Looks Bad?

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Q: How long can I stay in the same position without getting a raise or promotion before it starts to look bad on my resume?

A: The short answer is that it depends largely on the stage you’re at in your career.

For those who have already climbed the company ladder to attain a position they’re satisfied with, promotions and pay increases are less of a concern than for people who are still climbing. It's those early in their career who really have to worry about it.

“If someone has been in the same entry-level position for five years or more, it could raise concerns with your resume for hiring managers,” says Alexandra Levitt, author of New Job, New You, who argues that potential employers will question why you haven’t advanced further in your career after that much time has elapsed. That said, Levit suggests younger workers in their 20s consider moving on from a job after more than two to three years without a pay raise or title change since these tend to be the years when people have fewer responsibilities holding them back from making a career change.

The main exception to this rule, according to Charles Purdy from Monster.com, is when one works in a profession like teaching where the focus is less on rising through the ranks or getting big salary hikes than accruing enough experience on the job.

Even those who feel like they’re stalled in a position can take steps to make their resume more appealing to potential employers.

“Promotions and salary changes may be outside your control, but adding new skills on your own time is within your control,” Purdy says. “Accept new responsibilities when you can and make sure you are responsible for your own career development by finding a mentor and reaching out to your boss and human resources.”

Hiring managers do note how long you’ve been at your current job, but according to both career experts we spoke with, they generally pay the most attention to the responsibilities you had while you worked there, and how these changed. Title changes are less important and salary increases place a distant third.

“It’s the responsibilities you’ve had and your ability to show a clear pattern of results as quantifiably as possible that matter,” Levit argues. “Just because you don’t have a different title doesn’t mean you’re not running the place.”

In fact, as Levit points out, many cash-strapped companies have asked workers to take on additional tasks in this economy without salary increases or title changes. Spotlighting your added value to the company over time will be essential to finding a new one later.

Have a career problem you can’t solve? E-mail seth.fiegerman@thestreet.com, or tweet at this reporter on Twitter @sfiegerman.

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