Even if you’re a skilled interviewer who knows how to identify problem employers right from the phone screen, you may wind up in a dead-end job at some point in your career.
Why? Because jobs continue to change, even after we take them. Sometimes, your job will evolve up to a point … and then stop. Whether it’s because your role has become less essential or the organization isn’t investing resources, the result is the same: you’re stuck in a position that isn’t going anywhere. Worse yet, it may become apparent that there’s no escape for you within the organization.
When you can’t get promoted, and you’re not learning anything new, it’s time to reassess. Here’s how to move on from a dead-end job.
1. Identify the Problem
You can’t solve a problem if you can’t name it, so spend some time thinking about what’s really holding you back. It might be as simple as a full org chart above you; if no one is leaving, and the company isn’t adding any new positions, you may need to quit in order to move up.
On the other hand, maybe the problem isn’t your job or employer. Maybe the problem is that you’re burned out. If you assess the situation and discover that there are still opportunities here — but that you can’t or won’t take them — you might ask yourself if your enthusiasm is waning.
2. Learn New Skills
There’s also the possibility that you can’t move forward because you’re not qualified to do the job you’d like to hold next. In that case, your goal is to identify your personal skills gap — and fill it by adding the skills you need.
“Working and learning are no longer these discrete, separate worlds,” says Shannon Hughes, Udemy’s Senior Director of Marketing, in an interview with Career Contessa. “Most successful folks are the ones who take lifelong learning seriously throughout their careers, and really take ownership of it.”
Take a look at the LinkedIn profiles of the people who have the job you want. What do they have that you don’t? Maybe taking a class or adding a certification can get you to the next level.
Don’t assume you can’t afford it, either. You may find free online classes or low-cost options through community colleges or professional organizations. Your employer may even cover some of the costs as an employee benefit, if the skill would prove useful in your current job.
3. Take Stretch Assignments
Want a free way to upskill yourself without taking a class? Volunteer for a stretch assignment — a project that requires you to learn new skills in order to complete the work. It might just be the path to bigger and better things.
“There is towering evidence confirming the power of stretch opportunities. Just ask any experienced leader,” writes Jo Miller at Forbes. “Egon Zehnder’s survey of 823 international executives found that 71% of senior leaders said stretch assignments had the biggest impact on unleashing their potential. Also, research from Korn Ferry identifies stretch or rotational assignments as the most valuable leadership skill-building experience, ahead of action learning, mentoring, relationships, 360° assessments, exposure to more senior leaders and formal classroom training.”
Stretch assignments include projects like delivering presentations, launching or re-launching initiatives, serving on a task force to solve tricky problem, and leading implementation of software or other tools. By challenging yourself to grow, you’ll develop the skills you need to move on to other things — plus, you’ll alleviate your boredom right now.
4. Get Your Resume Ready
Feeling stuck at work is no fun, but these temporary dead ends are a good reminder not to get too comfortable in any job. You never know when opportunity will knock — or when you’ll wind up on the layoff list.
“Unfortunately, no matter how much you love your job or how stellar you are at it, a situation may arise where you get laid off or let go,” writes Erin Greenawald at The Muse. “And if that does happen, you’re going to have enough to think about without adding updating your ancient resume into the mix.”
It’s best to have your resume up-to-date and ready to go at all times. Realistically, however, most of us don’t polish our CV every time we take a class or master a new skill. So, use this moment in your career to do that. It won’t take as long as you think — and it will go faster the more often you do it. Greenawald recommends setting aside half an hour or so every month for this purpose.
Make sure your resume reflects your current level of experience and expertise, highlighting those qualities that are most attractive to hiring managers right now. (You can take a look at recent job listings to get a sense of what people in your industry are looking for — you’ll probably notice some common keywords in the job descriptions.)
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5. Connect With Your Network
When’s the last time you had coffee with a former colleague … or even a conversation with a coworker from another department? One of the ways to get out of a dead-end job is to refresh those connections with your professional network.
You never know when the perfect job opportunity will come up at a friend’s organization. If you’ve recently spoken, they’ll be more likely to think of you when it comes time to make a referral.
Remember that one of the best ways to network is to help someone else. Are there jobs at your employer that would be a good fit for a contact? Can you make time to offer a letter of recommendation or a LinkedIn endorsement?
“Wherever or however you do it, networking isn’t meant to be one-sided,” writes Lisa Tynan at TopResume. “It should provide value for both parties at some point. Look for ways to help your network, and they’ll readily want to help you in return.”
Just being willing to listen when a contact presents a professional problem can be helpful. Don’t underestimate your ability to help. You might have insight that will prove invaluable.
Want to know more about networking’s potential benefits for your career? Read, “How Many Jobs Are Found Through Networking, Anyway?”
6. Look for the Lessons
Even the worst dead-end job has lessons to teach you. For example, it might help you avoid bad jobs in the future.
“Nobody likes feeling stuck in a job they hate,” writes Kat Boogaard at ZipRecruiter. “But, that doesn’t mean you need to chalk the entire experience up as a waste. In fact, there are still plenty of valuable lessons you can learn from your absolute worst jobs. Even better? Those lessons are sure to come in handy throughout the rest of your career. So, keep your chin up and remember that even your most horrible job is just one piece of a much bigger (and better) puzzle!”
By dealing with your current situation, you might learn to recognize the signs that a new position won’t work out. For example, you could identify red flags that indicate that a company culture isn’t for you, or that your potential boss is a poor leader or just a bad fit for your work style.
7. Maintain Work-Life Balance
If you’re like most professionals, you spend a huge percentage of your days at work. So, it’s no wonder if dealing with your dead-end job makes it harder to enjoy even your off-hours. It’s hard to put work out of your mind when you spend so much of your time doing it.
However, it’s important to carve out time to recuperate from work. That might mean making sure that there’s something fun to look forward to — and putting it on the calendar, so that you’ll keep your commitment to non-work activities. It might mean creating better boundaries about email and messaging usage, and choosing a time each evening to put your devices away and unplug. You might need to vent to your friends — or declare a time each day when venting comes to a close, so that you can turn your thoughts to more positive things.
Above all, try to make sure that you get time off from work, especially when things are tough at the office. Take your vacation days — and don’t check in with the office while you’re away. Keep your weekends free from work and resist the urge to peek at your email during your off-hours.
Your dead-end job might consume your thoughts while you’re at the office, but it doesn’t have to poison the rest of your life. Remember that this situation is temporary. Enjoy your time away and look forward to better days.
Tell Us What You Think
Have you done time in a dead-end job and then moved on to bigger and better things? We want to hear from you. Share your story in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.