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How and Why Feelings of Loyalty Can Stunt Your Career Growth

by Stacy Pursell, CPC, CERS

The VET Recruiter®

The employment marketplace is constantly changing. As a result, how a professional in that marketplace should view their career is also changing.

As I’ve mentioned before, the days of working for the same organization for 30 or 40 years and retiring with a gold watch are over. However, the situation has changed even more drastically than that. You might say to yourself, “Sure, the days of working for only one employer are over, but surely people can still work for two or three employers during the course of their career.”

While there is comforting sentiment behind that statement, it’s misguided sentiment. That’s because the days of working for two or three employers during your career are pretty much over, too or at the least highly unusual. Before we explore the rationale for this, let’s address people’s personalities and the role they play in this discussion.

People’s feelings about loyalty as an individual can affect the decisions they make regarding their career. People, of course, differ in terms of their personalities. Some people value loyalty more than others. Now, there is nothing wrong with being a person who values loyalty. After all, loyalty is an admirable trait and an excellent core value. Valuing loyalty absolutely does not make you a bad person.

But those feelings could ultimately stunt your career growth.

A dramatic shift in the marketplace

A transformation has occurred in the employment marketplace during the past decade. In fact, the marketplace operates much differently than when I became a recruiter more than 20 years ago. At that time, employers, by and large, valued loyalty. When an employee stayed for a long length of time, the employer placed more value on that employee.

Since then, the degree to which employers value loyalty has decreased. If you need validation of that statement, we need look no further than what happened during the Great Recession. The argument could be made that loyalty was not much of a factor when employers began laying people off during the recession. In some instances, the employees who were costing the organization the most money were the first to go.

Now, I understand that not everyone who’s in the employment marketplace today was in the marketplace when the Great Recession hit. Perhaps you didn’t experience first-hand what happened and how it happened. If that’s the case, then you haven’t experienced what it’s like to see mass layoffs (or be part of one).

Regardless, what’s crucial to realize is that there was a shift in terms of what employers value. Actually, it’s more accurate to say that it was an acceleration of a shift. The shift had started years before, and the recession served as a catalyst. Whereas before, employers had placed a certain degree of importance on loyalty, now many do not place as much importance on it.

Or perhaps to put it another way, many employers deem other things to be more important. That’s not to say that loyalty is not important to them at all, but it’s certainly not as important as it was before and it’s further down the list.

When loyalty works against you

There are two main instances when loyalty becomes a factor for an employer:

  1. The employer has to lay people off.
  2. The employer is looking to hire new employees.

We’ve already touched upon the first instance when we discussed the Great Recession. There are plenty of people in the marketplace who can attest to the fact that the amount of years they spent with the company had no bearing on whether or not they were let go. Many were let go, regardless of their years of service.

Now let’s turn to the second instance, which is when an employer is looking to hire new employees. How much is loyalty a factor in an employee’s hiring decision? You would think that an organization would want to hire a candidate who has a track record of being loyal to their employer, right? I can tell you from personal experience that is not necessarily the case.

In fact, I have been involved in multiple situations where an employer did NOT want to hire a candidate with a track record of being loyal to their employer.

I once worked with a candidate who was employed at the same organization for 17 years. Because of that fact, I had trouble placing him. There were a couple of reasons for this. First, hiring managers were concerned that the candidate would have a difficult time adjusting to a new culture. Second, hiring managers believed the candidate had only seen things done one way and didn’t have the advantage of seeing how other organizations operate.

As you might imagine, when I communicated this information to the candidate, he was surprised by it. It wasn’t something for which he was prepared. He probably thought that the loyalty he had displayed with his current employer would work in his favor. At the worst, in his mind, it would be a non-factor in his candidacy. However, neither of those were the case. In reality, his loyalty worked against him in his quest to find a new job.

And this is NOT an isolated incident. I’ve experienced similar situations, and they’ve been occurring with more frequency during the past few years. As I mentioned, I’ve been involved in multiple situations where an employer did not want to hire a candidate with a track record of being loyal to their employer because they felt they had been there too long and were not risk takers or would not be able to adapt as easily to a new culture.

It’s all about perspective. What you, the candidate, might see as loyalty, the hiring manager of another organization might see as someone allowing their career—along with the potential value you could offer to the organization—to become “stale.”

So yes, loyalty is an admirable trait and an excellent core value. However, in certain situations (probably more than you realize), loyalty to yourself and your career should take precedence.

We help support careers in one of two ways: 1.By helping Animal Health and Veterinary professionals to find the right opportunity when the time is right, and 2.By helping to recruit top talent for the critical needs of Animal Health and Veterinary organizations. If this is something that you would like to explore further, please send an email to stacy@thevetrecruiter.com.

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