Picture yourself in five years. Are you sitting at the same desk, working for the same manager, doing the same work, and earning the same salary as you are right now?
I didn’t think so.
Unless you already have your absolute dream job, you’re probably working towards some sort of higher goal in your career—a more senior position, additional responsibilities, or new skills. But to make sure you have the opportunity to reach those goals, it’s important to be aware of your potential for growth—and to realize when you’re in a job where that doesn’t exist.
Yes, unfortunately, even good jobs can be dead-end jobs—or positions with little to no room for advancement. So, to make sure you’re on the right track to grow in your career, keep in mind these three surefire signs that your job is at a standstill.
1. It Would Take a Big Event for You to Get Promoted
For a clear sign that your career might be stalled, look to your superiors and their tenure with the company. For example, say your boss has been in her position for five years, and her boss has been in his position for seven—and they both seem very comfortable where they are. That means, in order for you to move up, something would have to entice one of those big wigs out of his or her position. And you’ve seen no indication that anyone’s planning on leaving anytime soon.
While this isn’t necessarily the mark of a dead-end job (you never know when someone could make a sudden exit from the company or a position), it can—and should—raise some concerns if you’re hoping to move up the ladder sooner rather than later.
Your Next Steps
If you work for a larger company that’s open to horizontal shifts, you may be able to move into another division—one that has more opportunity for growth.
If not, you still may not have to throw in the towel completely. Even if you can’t move into your boss’s position anytime soon, try asking for more responsibility (more on that later) or a title change. You may even be able to create a position for yourself by identifying some needs of the company and then tackling them—effectively working your way into a position that didn’t even exist before.
2. Even if an Opportunity Arose, You Wouldn’t Want It
OK, so you’re probably thinking, Why wouldn’t I take a promotion that I was offered? But consider this: Depending on your current level of satisfaction and your future careers goals, you may not actually want to move up the ladder in your own company.
Say, for example, you’re a manager at a great company and you’re content with your job for now—but you can’t imagine doing it for the rest of your life, and truth be told, you’ve always wanted to break into a different field. So, if you were offered a promotion to take on even more responsibility, more direct reports, and more high-maintenance clients as a senior manager, you wouldn’t actually be that excited about it.
Or, maybe you aren’t willing to commit to the extended hours or travel required of those roles, or you're not passionate about the company’s mission. Whatever your reason, if you have no desire to move up at your current company, consider it a red flag.
Your Next Steps
It’s time to take a look at your career goals: Why are you spending time in a career in which you’re not excited about moving up to the next level? You may have solid reasons—finances, job security, or your current skill set—but unless you’re willing to stay in that same position forever, you may want to look for a job that you’ll be excited to grow and progress in.
So, consider some other options. Even if you’re not ready to jump into the job hunt just yet, take some small steps: Set up some informational interviews with contacts at other companies or in other roles, take a class in an area you’re interested in, or browse through some career profiles online. You might be surprised at what you find—and it may just give you the spark you need to pursue something new.
3. Your Work Hasn’t Evolved
As you gain more experience in your current position, you should be able to expect that you’ll be given more responsibility and increasingly challenging work. And as you successfully complete each new assignment and prove yourself time and time again, you should eventually start seeing opportunities to move up in a more official sense (i.e., promotions that include a shiny new title and a well-deserved raise).
On the other hand, if you’re still doing the exact same work today as you did two years ago when you first started with the company, that’s a pretty straightforward sign that you’re not going to be moving up very quickly—or at all. And without the chance to improve your skills and develop new ones, even if you did have the chance at a higher position, you may not have the marketable skills to fill it. In short: Without new opportunities, your career is at a standstill.
Your Next Steps
Don’t ever be afraid to ask for more responsibility. For example, when you see a need for a better training program in your department, volunteer to develop it yourself—or if you notice that the company’s social media presence is a little lacking, ask if you can take it on as a side project. By accepting new challenges and showing your managers that you’re able to take on more than you do right now, you’ll prove how valuable you are
And if your request is met with resistance and your work stays stagnant? Well, then it may be time to look for something with more potential for growth.
Realizing that you’re in a dead-end job can be scary—especially when you consider that your alternative is the not-so-enjoyable search for a new job. But staying put—for longer than you’d like—isn’t a great alternative. So if your job isn’t progressing the way you want, take charge and go after your goals at full speed. Your future self (the one sitting in a corner office) will thank you.