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Nine to Strive, The PayScale Advice Column: Avoiding Plateaus and Switching Careers

Welcome back to the second installment of 9 to Strive, PayScale’s career advice column. This week Industrial/Organizational Psychology Practitioner Muneeb Bukhari is tackling your hard-hitting inquires about how to deal with career plateaus and how to transition from one career to another.

Do you have a career-related question you need answered by our resident expert? Then send your questions to advice@payscale.com. Muneeb will save the day with answers to questions you just can’t ask your HR admin, whether it’s about your own career development, or the development of a questionable relationship between you and another co-worker.

 Nine to Strive Get Expert Advice from PayScale

Dear Muneeb,

What "signals" should I look for to know that I'm reaching a plateau in my career? If you find yourself in a career rut, what's the best way to jumpstart your career? (Professional development, education, networking, etc.?)

Sincerely,

Stuck in a Rut

Dear Stuck in a Rut,

It depends on what you define as a plateau.   Most of us immediately think of an external plateau, like not getting a promotion, but there is also the internal plateau to think about as well.  For the former, the most obvious sign would be a lack of upward mobility.  Some other external factors or signs to look for would be:

-A lack of succession planning for your boss (i.e. is there anywhere for them to go?).

-A lack of career progression for the position. Is there a natural next step for your particular job?

-The organization values tenure and longevity over merit/performance based promotions. Do people get rewarded for good work or is it just a waiting game?

-No lateral moves available either (lateral move: when an employee moves from one area of work to another without changing pay grade or salary)

The internal plateau is reached when there is no more room for personal development, learning or growth.  Often times this is accompanied by:

-A lack of motivation

-Physical illness due to being overloaded

-Stress

If you find yourself in either of these situations, the best way to jumpstart your career is a combination of all three of the things you mentioned: professional development, education, & networking).  Social networking has made it ridiculously easy for us to connect with people who can be influential in this process.  Check out my post regarding climbing the corporate ladder here and how it relates to the social networking aspect.  Professional development and education will help you reignite your passion for your career but also make you more efficient at what you do.  The more time you can free up, the more time can be spent doing the things that help you stay focused on your overall career goals.

Dear Muneeb,

How do you begin to switch careers? I work in tech, but am about to finish my MBA and want to move into project management. How do I "reset" my career and make the jump into management?

Dear Career Chameleon,

Switching careers is no easy feat. Luckily since you are about to complete your MBA you are in an ideal position.  Prior to grad school, most of my professional career was a mix of marketing, quality assurance, banking, and telemarketing. (Yes, I was the one begging you to complete a “quick” five minute survey.)  I knew I had to have more than classroom experience if I wanted to get hired after graduation, so during grad school I was able to gain that experience through internships.  It made the transition when I finished much easier than if I had nothing relevant on my resume. 

1. Highlight relevant school projects.  If you’re towards the end of your grad school tenure and can’t secure an internship, don’t panic. Most graduate school programs normally have their students work within teams and manage projects as part of the curriculum.  Think back to the experiences you had and highlight those that helped solidify your project management skills. 

2. You might already be doing (some part) of your dream job. This is not to say relevant experience can only be found in concentrated graduate programs.  Everything you have done previously within your career can be used as experience toward the transition to project management.  Not all managers are good leaders, but all good leaders can be managers.  Position yourself as a great informal leader, one that your coworkers came to for advice, and support. 

3. Re-engineer your knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA’s).  Look through your current job description and capture all the aspects of it that are related to project management.  Determine what your strengths are and relate them to the skills necessary for project management.  It helps if you have a project management job description handy to work towards (check the PayScale Research Center for job descriptions).  If you can be this analytic for a potential career change and communicate it effectively, the decision making process becomes much simpler for any potential employer.

4. Fake it til you make it. If you are truly passionate about making the switch, be persistent, and don’t allow rejection to get in your way.

Well folks, that’s it for this week. Stay tuned for next week’s edition, and remember to send your questions to advice@payscale.com. Whether your query is serious or scandalous, we've got an expert to help you become a better employee (or at least figure out how not to get fired).


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1 Comment

  1. 1 John 19 Jun
    Great advice, keep the information flowing!

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