How to Define Your Own Career Success

Martin Yate By Martin Yate February 4, 2020
worried office worker

​Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. This week's question has been edited for length.

I've been in my current position doing workforce and succession planning for over 10 years. I still find it fascinating, promising, rewarding, complex, challenging and new. Is it a problem to stay in the same job for so long?

There is so much pressure to be constantly advancing one's career. Is it really important to continuously advance?

Maybe more important, is it OK to not want to be promoted into leadership? I always thought that leadership was where my career was headed eventually, but the longer I'm in the workforce, the clearer it is to me that I don't want the extra pressure that is heaped on members of the leadership team. Can't I be ambitious in my pursuit of better workforce and succession management strategies instead of for my own career advancement?

In the longer version of your letter, it is clear that you enjoy the responsibilities of making a difference as a civil servant. I don't see this question as one that really relates to a job search— although my response would apply to that—performance reviews or tactics to use when interviewing for a promotion. I think this is an issue in which you are facing internal pressure from peers and managers who still believe that a sign of being motivated is wanting to go after every promotion or new job opportunity.

There are many benefits to climbing the professional ladder, but there are downsides, too: Your competition gets tougher and more numerous every year; the job can take over more and more of your personal life; and job opportunities get fewer, both within the company and on the open market.

Meanwhile, a nonmanagement job, where your experience and frame of reference continually grow, makes for better long-term stability. Should you ever decide to change jobs, the depth of your experience along with the breadth of your frame of reference will be like catnip to hiring managers at desirable companies.

Additionally, your job leverages artificial intelligence and robotics, which means you will probably not be displaced by such technologies. Your job—and financial future—are very likely secure.

Too Long in One Job?

Whenever you're confused about business or professional issues, consider the viewpoint of the person on the other side of the desk.

For example, if I were to sit opposite you as a hiring manager (for a new job or promotion), I would know that my job as a manager of people is to get work done through others, and, therefore, making good hires is key to my success as a manager.

Whom would I choose for the role, the candidate who averaged two-plus years in each of his or her last four jobs, or the candidate who's been building experience in one job over a decade? It's a no-brainer. The longer-tenured candidate is likely to have deeper experience and a wider frame of reference for the job's challenges, and that stability is a plus.

Worries of a Stable, Competent Employee

You worry that staying in the same job for so long is a problem. And you also say that after many years in your job, you still find the work "fascinating, promising, rewarding, complex, challenging and new." I love what you say here and how you say it. As a hiring manager, this would be music to my ears, because your statement makes me think, "Here is someone who knows the work and is steady, reliable and always looking for new approaches."

A less-sophisticated interviewer may ask, "Shouldn't you have achieved more and climbed higher by now?"

You could reply, "Is it wrong to be happy in a job I'm really good at and in which I get better every year? What's wrong with my ambition to pursue ever-greater skills? I really enjoy the work. It's rewarding, complex and challenging, and I'm good at it. This is where I belong, and what I want to do is crucial to organizational success.

"Besides, I am actually someone you can rely on who isn't after your job and will not leave to get a promotion anytime they can."

You might finish with something along these lines: "I'm a third-generation state employee. I moved into workforce and succession planning over 10 years ago, and I still find it fascinating, promising and new. My role contributes to company success and makes a positive difference in many people's lives. What more could I ask for in a job? And more important, what more could an employer seek in an employee for this position?"

I applaud your wisdom and goals. There is only one issue here that is relevant to your job stability: that you stay on top of the technologies that impact workforce planning, performance, productivity and efficient management.

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.

Packed with practical, honest, real-world guidance for successfully navigating common HR career challenges, Martin Yate's new book, The HR Career Guide: Great Answers to Tough Career Questions, is available at the SHRMStore.



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