Dear Kate & Dale: I've been with the same corporation for seven years, and for several reasons have decided that I don't want to spend my entire career here. Is there a "right" span of years to stay at one place? I know that less than a year is not good, but is there some number of years where stability becomes rigidity? - Gary
Kate: Seven years is certainly in the range of respectability. And the range goes on - you will not become less marketable as you spend more time there, so long as you do not spend time doing the same things over and over. You've heard that cliche "He didn't have 10 years of experience; he had one year of experience 10 times." There's a reason it's a cliche - it contains real truth.
Dale: Here's what concerns me, though, Gary: your saying "for several reasons" you have decided you don't want to spend your career with your current company. The instant of deciding you want to leave is often the same instant that your performance begins a downward spiral. When we look closely at people who get fired after long tenures, we can often detect that they, at some level, set themselves up to get fired. They quit mentally, and then the physical reality caught up. So you mustn't be sanguine, thinking that your career parking meter has plenty of time left - you have entered a yellow zone.
Kate: Yes, planning to leave can make it more difficult to continue to learn and grow where you are, which is the condition under which it is acceptable to stay. You must figure out ways to pick up new skills, keep up your network and bring ideas back to your present company. Way back in 1978, The Five O'Clock Club developed a definition of job-hunting that is the key to marketability: Job-hunting means continuously being aware of the job market, both inside and outside your present organization, and continually being aware of what you have to offer, inside and outside.
Dale: The beauty of that definition is that it recognizes how workplaces interact. While hunting for a job, you might find a way to reinvigorate your current one. That happens when you go to your management and say something like, "Over at IBM they're doing some amazing things with inventory, and I think it might revolutionize how we work." You can see how that would increase your marketability. If you need a place to start, begin by contacting everyone you've met over the past seven years who's come and gone at your company. Your old colleagues can make a great new network, and they all know the way out.
Best of the month
Kate: Every month we each come up with a recommendation for the best in career resources. For this time, I've been thinking about all those people who are having such difficulty fitting into the standard job modes, and they are looking to self-employment as a solution. I have two Web sites that can help. First, there's www.entrepreneur.com, which covers many doable start-ups, such as opening your own housecleaning service. Second, there is the Small Business Administration Web site at www.sba.gov. They have, along with much more, a "Small Business Course." It's worth reading; in fact, it's worth studying. (Let me add a note for those of you who don't have a computer at home: Your local library has computers with Internet connections, and the staff there will show you how to get started. It's free, easy and will open up an amazing array of resources to you.)
Dale: And my pick for this time is a lively, energizing little book called "Radical Careering." The author, Sally Hogshead, comes from an advertising background, and she has assembled a visually and verbally stimulating manual, the sort you can pick up over and over, with topics from "Luck is for wimps" to "You can be comfortable or outstanding, but not both." It's a joy to see that a book about taking chances actually took some with both design and content.