You’re spinning your wheels. Putting in time. Your job is a grind. No one appreciates your work. Your boss isn’t moving up the ladder any time soon. And you just feel trapped in a dead-end job.
What do you do?
I had this question come up from one of my readers the other day.
He had started in the workforce in a job he was interested in. And then decided to get an advance degree (MBA) to move up in his career. But the opportunities he was searching for after his degree didn’t match what was available at the time in the job market.
The closest thing to this I can think of is you’re shopping for a car or house and you check out lots of them and finally figure out your ideal one. Then when you go to make a purchase, the one you had in mind is not available or doesn’t have all the options you want. And then you have to settle.
That’s what he did. He settled on something that was close and hoped that that would turn into a career that would include good promotions into higher and higher roles.
That didn’t pan out and so for the last two years he’s been searching, to no avail, for that opportunity he’d originally envisioned.
And he’s getting frustrated that he hasn’t found anything in two years.
You may be feeling the same way.
You didn’t envision the job or industry when you first got out of college or high school. But you had to pay the bills and the years just passed by. And now you feel stuck. With no realistic advancement opportunities in front of you.
This is where I caution you before you make a hasty decision that could be bad for you and your career.
There are times where your career plateaus. Whether that comes from being stuck in a job that has no promotion opportunities. Or if you’re just not learning and growing. Or if you are moving from job to job to try to grow your skills and experience but every job has been a lateral move instead of a step up.
Know that this could be the leveling off before your next growth spurt. Like doing physical workouts, you need to build certain muscles or experiences before you can have that break-out experience (i.e. get that new perfect job or promotion).
So don’t get discouraged by that.
Also with a bad economy you may have to bide your time until your industry turns around and starts hiring again.
Here’s some strategies I recommend.
1) Learn and Document
I find very few people take their career seriously, particularly in their 20’s. They have a nebulous goal (get a good paying job in a certain industry) and they are basically trying to figure out what they want to do for the rest of their work life.
That is fine. You need to do that and it takes time to figure that out. But at a certain point if you are going to progress, you need to lay the foundation for that success.
Part of it is education. Whether that is graduating high school, or a trade school, or an associates or bachelors degree, or an advanced degree like an MBA.
Part of it is experience. With work experience you learn to deal with different challenges and overcome them. By doing that at increased levels of responsibility you get better and become worth more to a company.
But the most overlooked part is…
Having experience and education is good. But that just qualifies you to apply for a job or promotion. It doesn’t get you the interview or get you that job. That takes something more.
And that is a demonstrated ability to perform the tasks required of the position you’re trying to get.
So how do you demonstrate that ability?
Here are some areas to explore.
- Have you brought in new business (increased sales, created a new product or service, got add-on project work)?
- Have you increased company profits?
- Have you reduced costs?
- Have you retained customers by good customer service or other initiatives?
- Have you saved time and money by making a process or procedure more efficient?
- Did you create or improve a work process?
- How big a budget have you managed?
- Did you produce more than the standards or more than your peers?
- Have you prevented or solved a particularly difficult problem?
- Did you go above and beyond what was required in your job description?
- Did you make recommendations that were adopted for the betterment of the company or project?
- Do you have a record of regular promotions?
- Have you managed, lead or trained others?
- Did you lead any special projects?
- Did you work with any name-brand companies?
- Have you been published?
- Have you won any awards?
- Have you been recognized for your actions (by a boss or client)?
So how do you write up your accomplishments (or answer the question in an interview)?
Use the STAR Formula that is used by interviewers to assess your abilities to get results.
- Situation: The interviewer wants you to present a recent challenge and situation in which you found yourself in.
- Task: What did you have to achieve? The interviewer will be looking to see what you were trying to achieve from the situation.
- Action: What did you do? The interviewer will be looking for information on what you did, why you did it and what the alternatives were.
- Results: What was the outcome of your actions? What did you achieve through your actions and did you meet your objectives? What did you learn from this experience and have you used this learning since?
Or use the C-A-R method (Challenge-Action-Result).
Here’s some examples that demonstrate this.
- Increased ROI for IT spend by 65% through elimination of low priority projects.
- Ensured rapid, appropriate issue escalation / resolution through implementation of multi-level backend support system.
By reviewing your accomplishments regularly (I recommend weekly if you’re looking to change jobs or push for a promotion in the next year or at least monthly otherwise) to ensure your resume is up to date and to be ready for a last minute promotion opportunity.
Nothing is worse than having the job of your dreams show up and you’re not ready to apply for it. And rushing this process can result in you not getting a job you were fully qualified for.
So besides an updated accomplishments list and resume that reflects that, what else can I do to put myself in the drivers seat of my own career?
2) Sometimes change is good.
You’re in a job you’ve been in for several years. For whatever reason things have gone stale. You’re no longer feeling challenged or the day to day work has become dreary or boring.
Or you’re early on in your career and you see that your current job is just a stepping stone but the internal promotion opportunities are not there. What do you do now?
Invest in your education or experiences outside your job
Sometimes you have volunteer opportunities outside work that you can use to develop skills needed for the next promotion. Or you can start a side business to build skills and earn a little side money. Often there is a translation of what you learn there into your current job or could be the extra push to give you confidence to apply for that promotion.
Or you can go back to school or take online courses to get the certifications or degrees you might not have completed earlier in your career to gain entry into those higher level jobs.
Sometimes I know this is easier said than done. But you need to be open to it. I’ve often seen people early on in their career in roles without any realistic promotion opportunity. And they spend years working there and limiting their career growth because they weren’t willing to step outside their comfort zone and take on a new scary challenge at a new company.
Now you do have to do your research and not just jump to jump. Hiring managers are still a little wary of people who jump from job to job every year or two. The bureau of labor statistics from 2014 shows people change jobs every 4.6 years. And younger people in their 20’s, who are early in their careers, often change every two or three years.
Now recognize that it takes at least a year in most jobs to be competent and another year to fully learn it and get everything you can from it. But after that you need to be looking at and assessing your career growth. If your upward mobility is limited or you aren’t being challenged, it may be time to move on.
And when it is time to move on, review your accomplishments, update your resume, and begin the search process.
And if you are struggling with coming up with your accomplishments or your resume is looking dated, or you need help putting it together, let me help you out.
If this was helpful please share it with your friends and if you know of someone who is looking to make a change who might need help with their resume or some career guidance, send them my way.