In the February 1, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader is pretty happy at work, and wonders about sticking around:

I have been with the same company since college graduation: nine years. The company was a small start-up and has grown to become profitable. It provides average benefits with somewhat below-average salary. I have had opportunities to leave (job offer in hand) in the past, but have decided to stay with hopes of the company continuing its growth. I see many people bouncing from one job to the next for professional challenge and career advancement. Should I consider “moving on?” Or should I stay with good chances of being “in the right place at the right time?” Let me know your opinion. Thanks. 

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

After nine years with the company, I’d hope your management would welcome a discussion about the future. You’re certainly loyal, and it’s prudent to express your interest in the company’s goals since they will affect you profoundly.

My suggestion: Request a meeting with the president or CEO of the company. (If you worked for a big company, I’d suggest the head of your division or operation.) Invite him (or her) to lunch. This might seem odd, but it’s not at all. You have invested a lot in this company. You need to keep track of its progress like you would any company you own stock in.

At lunch, explain that you have been thinking about the company’s future direction, and you’d like to know what the CEO thinks. Don’t let on that you’re considering making a job change. If the CEO is smart, he’ll figure it out, but he’ll also see that you’re approaching your own future intelligently: by trying to assess the company’s future.

Here’s a suggestion about How to Say It: “I know there are certain things you can’t discuss, but I’m trying to get a feel for where the company plans to go over the next five years, and how someone like me would be impacted by those plans. A lot of people just get up and leave a company because they don’t know what the future holds. I feel like I’m part of a family here, and I care about our future, so I’d like to learn more about this from you.”

Most people never bother to talk to The Big Boss before they decide to move on. The Big Boss is probably more approachable than you think. Ask your questions. Make sure there is a future there, rather than “more of the same” (unless that’s what you really want). That’s how to figure out whether you should stay put. The best person to ask is the one at the top of your company.

I like it when a person tries to find good reasons to stay put, rather than try to change jobs quickly out of desperation. If you feel like you’re in the right place, but also feel a bit itchy, sometimes the best way to scratch the itch is to go talk to your bosses…

What’s made you decide to stay put? Are you glad you did?

What information was helpful in making that decision? How did you obtain it?


  1. It is hard not to let the decision to stay or go get clouded by the emotions that nearly anyone would have, after working at the same place for 9 yrs. But the bottom line is, “What is in your best interest?” It is also hard to get straight answers from management and one must excel at reading between the lines. I left a decent job that I landed straight after college. If I stayed, I would probably be making more money than I am now, with better benefits, and living a more stable life. I would also be miserable. I’m glad I left. Since leaving, I’ve made extended voyages to 3 dozen countries on 5 continents and I learned much about foreign languages and cultures. Too bad Americans see travel as “doesn’t want to work” instead of “has vast international experience.” I am willing to try many new things until I find what is right for me, but this is certainly not for everyone as Nick pointed out! I guess you can say happiness and self-determination win out over money in my value system. I also figured out that I am better at being more entrepreneurial than working for others. So, I created my own income stream.

  2. My suggestion is to decide what you want while you are there and before someone else decides for you. I have worked for the same company for most of my career due to its international growth opportunities and its reputation in the industry. After a series of layoffs I took some time off to earn advanced certifications related to my area of expertise. Since then, I have been hired back in a new position to serve the business in a greater capacity. It’s a win-win for everyone. Sometimes you need to step back and figure out what you want, align it with the company’s goals and objectives and then turn that into real value for them. You have to speak up if you want to be heard!

  3. Dear Should You Stay –

    Certainly in today’s world it’s expected and almost acceptable for people to bounce around. To be with a company for 9 years is almost unheard of today. But it does have its advantages. Fast forward several more years if you can, and if you do find yourself pounding the pavement, you will look much better if you can show stability. Companies like that much better. But that is no reason to stay with a company if it’s not right. This is where women’s intuition takes over. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut instinct. Look at how that worked out for Kathy.


  4. The important question is: Has this person advanced in 9 years? There are some positions that there are no room to improve without further training or education (i.e: administrative assistant). If this person has not advanced, they need to think about if there is education/training that is needed or think about if their current company is undervaluing them. However, not everyone has aspirations to climb the ladder. If this person is happy, do not let the actions of others determine their next step. Make the decision that benefits you! Do not leave just because everyone else is. Not to be negative, sometimes, it is easier to blame someone else. Sometimes the problem is not the company but you. Some people are mediocre performers and wonder why they keep getting passed over.

  5. 9 years? For “average benefits with somewhat below-average salary”? What IS your motivation? Since your pocket’s certainly not been rewarded for your loyalty, have you at least risen up fast in the ranks?

  6. If you decide to go, certainly get an offer in hand, AND be ready to pull the trigger. You mentioned job offers before, but it will be harder to go to those same companies that already made you offers, since you did not act on them. You will have to convince them, that you are ready for certain, to leave this job, and that you aren’t looking for a better offer just for leverage over your current employer. Try to leave gracefully, if you go, and remember how many good people are unemployed right now. It is really tough out there and many companies are taking advantage by making low ball offers. Too bad for the low-ballers, because they are setting themselves up for having employees leave when something better comes along.

  7. I follow one simple rule: If I’m not enjoying what I am doing, it’s time to leave. You’d be surprised how often that one simple rule has worked for me when I have followed it, and how often it’s bitten me in the butt when I haven’t.

  8. MWEinNC,
    I agree completely! Some people have different values, but I do not think any amount of money is worth being miserable every single day. I would add that, in addition to following my bliss, losing respect for coworkers or management is a reason to leave. But by the time I lose respect for them, I am probably not happy anyway. Great rule of thumb!

  9. Dear Should I Stay or Should I Go?,

    As Nick and the other posters have noted, just because everyone else jumps from job to job doesn’t mean that you have to follow them, lemming-like. Reading between the lines of your post, it sounds like you’re of two minds. You didn’t say what you do for the company, but you didn’t complain about your job or the environment either, aside from the lower-than-average salary and so-so benefits. Since salary and benefits are two of the biggest factors people take into account when considering whether to take a job or to remain in a job or with the company, I presume that your salary still allows you to support yourself sufficiently (i.e., you don’t have to work a second job) or you are married and your spouse has a job that pays well, so your lower-than-average salary doesn’t prevent you from paying the mortgage or rent, saving for the future, buying a car, paying off your student loans, etc.
    Since you’ve been satisfied enough to stay for 9 years (I know–I was with my last employer for 8 years, with another employer for 10 years, so I understand) it means that either your job itself is challenging (you get to learn a lot), meaningful to you, or you have excellent colleagues (I had one job like that–the job itself wasn’t that great, but my boss and my co-workers were the best people I’ve ever worked with, and everyone at that company had been there for years and years–many for 25, 30, and longer. It makes a big difference when you have a good boss and excellent colleagues.)–one or more of these compensate for the so-so benefits and lower-than-average salary.
    Nick is right–you have to figure out why you’ve stayed at this company or in this job for 9 years, and you have to figure out your values. Are you thinking about leaving because you feel under-appreciated (evidenced by your salary and benefits)? Has management changed and you’re no longer sure that your values match up with the new management’s values? Is there scuttlebutt about outsourcing, layoffs? Have positions gone unfilled, with management expecting the staff remaining to do the jobs of those who left? Are temps outnumbering the benefitted employees? Or maybe you’re wondering if there’s more after 9 years of the same old same old (unless you have the kind of job that is different every day, or the kind of job that allows you to learn and grow, even if you are not moving into management).
    Sometimes the grass is not always greener on the other side, and if it is, it is because it is over a septic tank! You might find a job that pays a higher salary and offers better benefits, but the job might be mind-numbing or you might have pit vipers and piranhas for colleagues and bosses (the kind of people who will undermine you, who will take credit for your work, who will slam you or make up things about you to your boss, and who are otherwise just miserable people to work under and with). In that case, the higher salary and better benefits won’t matter–you’ll be spending them on therapy and you’ll be looking for another job again.
    I agree that a conversation with the big boss is a good idea, but you should be prepared for him not to tell you anything. Couching it as interest in the company’s future (and tying it to your future) is good–most bosses don’t care about your happiness–they care about the bottom line and what you can do for them, not what they can do for you. But if this is a small company where it feels like family, then by all means have the conversation, and be prepared to read in between the lines of what the big boss says or doesn’t say.
    Most people jump from job to job, from employer to employer today because longevity isn’t valued–companies would rather hire temps or fresh out of college kids because they’re cheaper. An employee with 5, 10, 15 years experience costs too much in terms of salary and benefits, but companies don’t measure the value of the long-time employee in terms of knowledge, experience, expertise, connections/relationships (particularly for jobs in fund-raising and in sales). Most companies don’t want employees to stick around that long, and the employees sense that, so they work for 2-3 years, then jump to another job.
    Listen to scuttlebutt too–scuttlebutt is not always entirely accurate, but there is often plenty of truth in it, and since you’ve been there long enough, you should be able to sort out the fact from the fiction.

  10. good points all. here’s my take.
    One of my bosses gave me some good advise. Every 3 years, pause, reflect and see where you are, what’s transpired over the last 3 years. If you haven’t moved “up” (that can be pay, satisfaction, etc) you need to make a move. (i.e do something don’t just sit there)
    2nd thing to factor in, an oversimplification but you can divide we beings into 2 types: time driven or event driven. time driven people are time conscious, schedule, plan with time in mind. event driven people focus on events and are pretty much oblivious to time. I think I’m the latter. time driven people don’t need my bosses advise, they’re likely doing it as a matter of what makes them tick. event driven people this 3 year “event” stuck in front of us. To me time flies when you’re having fun. I never planned to stay with a company 15 years, I went day by day dealing with my events and before you knew it 15 years whizzed by. The event was being laid off.
    This person was with his/her company 9 years out of college. Sounds to me uncomplicated, time just went by.
    so instead of 3 years..he’s doing a reason test in 9.
    Being part of a successful start up from day 1 isn’t all that bad. It’s likely not huge so as Nick said the CEO probably knows this person very well, and understands the investment made by the person. Hence Nick’s advise is on the money.
    I’d add one thing to the conversation. I think it’s safe to assume unless this person lived in a cave, he/she knows the business really well, it’s history, all of the key players etc.
    So go into that lunch prepared with some ideas to put on the table of: ideas on where you think the company could go, offer the CEO some ideas of where you can go inside the company. So instead of just pumping the CEO for info, which he/she may or may not give, turn it into a business conversation. Whether the advise is taken or not, you still win because you will remind mgmt of our value and contribution, and negate being taken for granted
    While you may not have been a “founder” in the sense of putting monetary skin in the game, you did put your career on the table, and since you’re still there, we have to assume you added recognizable value.
    In the hi tech world grads joined start ups offering sweat equity. The pay & benefits were as this person noted less than stellar. But if the company succeeded they expected and traditionally got pay back. While the person didn’t say how successful, there should be payback in the form of pay, or career growth, and respect/recognition for taking a chance on a start up
    Taking Nick’s suggestion will give you a lot of useful info. If the CEO blows you off, that’s useful information, if you meet and it’s just a warm/fuzzy froo froo lunch with no serious interplay, that tells you something, and if the CEO takes it serious and gives you useful info that tells you something.
    Then you’re equipped to follow a friends observation when faced with the same thing. He said he had a scale in his bathroom. When he stepped on it, it compared the pain of staying vs the pain of leaving.
    If you don’t do anything another 9 years will fly by