You’ve Been Working There For How Long?

Traits that enable certain individuals to do what most others cannot—keep a job for decades!

This month’s “Secrets To Success” column will be a little different from my previous ones, which were based solely on one person’s success. This month, I am not focusing on one person but, rather, on character traits…traits that enable certain individuals to do what most others cannot—keep a job for decades!

Last month, while I was at InfoComm, waiting for a friend, I was approached by another weary show-walker who asked if he could sit down. I was all the way down in the audio section, and I’d just finished talking with the folks from Renkus-Heinz. I welcomed his company and, because he was forward enough to ask to sit down, I engaged the man (let’s call him Tony) in a conversation. That talk led to this article.

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Our conversation started out simple enough. I let Tony know that I am an independent consultant who specializes in supplying overflow services for integrators and consultants who are shorthanded or overbooked, and that I’m a staff writer, and Technical Council member, for Sound & Communications. He said he’d read some of my articles.

It turns out that Tony works for a manufacturer’s rep firm in the middle of the country…and that he’s been working for the same company for 25 years. Can you imagine that?! Twenty-five years! Nobody (almost) does that. I was intrigued. After realizing the great opportunity that had just sat down in front me, I started to explore his long career with one employer.

So, first things first…I had to make sure he was not born into the position or married into it. He was not. He got into the business by happenstance 25 years ago (a “right place, right time” kind of thing), and he managed to thrive. I immediately started to think this would be a great topic for “Secrets To Success.” [Note: I am always looking for interesting and relevant topics to write about. Some I plan; some are suggested; and some happen just like this. And, to tell you the truth, I enjoy this type of revelation turning into a column the most.]

First, I asked him the typical length of time his coworkers had worked there. He told me one to three years. That led me to my next question—why? What was different about him versus those who did not last? Without naming him, he referenced an individual (let’s call him John) who had some underlying traits that caused his dismissal from the company.

Tony commented that, although John had a technical background and knew the product lines, and, in fact, was great at sales, he was just not a self-starter. John always did whatever he was assigned to do. He always performed every task, and, in fact, he did so to a high degree of completeness. But—and this is a big “but”—when he was done with whatever he was assigned, it was time for…well…nothing.

He had no drive to make things better; he simply wanted to finish what he was assigned. John lasted three years, until his employer realized that, no matter how much talking to, training and coaching John received, he was not getting the big picture. His employer wanted him to be self-driven and to know what to do next, rather than waiting to be told. And you know what? That’s a big difference, my friends.

This does not only apply to rep firms, where reps typically work from home, either. Employers need value for their money; waiting around for what comes next, rather than knowing and developing what comes next, is a recipe for a one-way ticket to the unemployment line!

Tony confided in me that, from the beginning, he had worked hard and always strove to improve on what he had already done, even reaching out to other markets. He enjoyed traveling and helping those in need. Something specific that he refined was the process of calling on clients and working toward uncovering what they really needed from him, because many didn’t know what that was.

He learned that, quite often, clients had to be led to where he wanted to take them. So, he developed a method of asking leading questions, listening to the client’s answers and adapting his presentation based on the “clues” that he was uncovering from his questions. Therefore, regarding traits to be successful, you must not be stagnant. You must also reflect on your own performance, looking to improve yourself. Remember Zig Ziglar, salesman extraordinaire, who said, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying!”

Next, I called an old friend I worked with many years ago. (Let’s call him Jeff.) Sure enough, he is still at the same company. Jeff works with (and leads) a special technology group for a MEP firm, and he’s been there for 31 years! I got some tips from him on the secret to his longevity there.

Right off the bat, let me say he has a similar resolve to Tony; he takes on challenges, and he’s a self-starter. He even adds different countries (not just clients) to the firm’s base. Particularly interesting is that he confided to me that, prior to his current position, he had bounced around a lot. He explained that where he works feels like a family. He likes the people he works with, and he’s liked by all. That brings us to another important trait—likeability.

I remember working with Jeff. He really is likeable! More and more people realize how much time they spend at work; naturally, folks want to spend that time with likeable, helpful, friendly people (who, we assume, also have the skills for the job).

In addition, Jeff is continuously challenged, and kept motivated, by the type of work he does. Constantly taking on new projects and new clients keeps it interesting for him, Jeff said. That involves possessing the trait of knowing yourself and what you like to do, and then taking a position that fulfills your needs—not just your financial needs, but also your emotional needs. Too many people (myself included, in the past) accept positions out of financial need; thus, they create a pattern of working for a company, resigning or being let go, looking for work, getting work…and then resuming the pattern!

In fact, I am coaching someone right now who is looking for work. The first things I asked him were, “What do you like to do? Where do you want to be in five, 10 or more years?” You know what his answer was? He said, “I don’t know.” How can you look for a job when you don’t even know what you want to do?

Last, and certainly not least, we talked about decisions. In fact, being able to make decisions—good decisions, at that—is an important trait for keeping your job. Every day, you make decisions (or avoid making them). Employers want employees who do not need to consult with them every time a decision must be made. Most of the time, making good decisions comes with experience. As they say, “It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.” Same thing! Accept responsibility and make that decision! Be decisive and convincing.

Another key trait I’d like to add is reliability. You will never last in a job if you say you’re going to do something and then don’t do it. (That’s also a pet peeve of mine.) You can last for a while making excuses and blaming others, but you’ll eventually be held accountable for your actions (or lack thereof) and lose your job. Do whatever it takes—write it down, set an alarm on your phone, etc. If you say you’re going to do something, do it!

So, there you have it—seven key character traits of those who work for the same employer for 25 years, 30 years or more. Review them. Think about them. And, if you’re not living and breathing all of them, don’t be surprised when there is the proverbial pink slip in your mailbox!

Let’s review:

  • Be a self-driven, motivated go-getter.
  • Be creative, a good listener and adaptable.
  • Grow and strive to improve yourself.
  • Be likeable, pleasant to be around and levelheaded.
  • Know yourself…really know yourself.
  • Be decisive, with the ability to make decisions and be accountable.
  • Say what you’re going to do and then do what you say.

Do you have any friends or family members who have been working the same job forever? Have you? I would love to hear some examples and get some additional tips. Please email me at

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