4 Signs Your Career's Totally Stalled (and It's Time to Move On)
You’ve been doing the same tasks for as long as you can remember.
You’ve had the same boss—and boss’ boss—the whole time you’ve been at the company.
New skills? New responsibilities? New company initiatives? Can’t really name any off the top of your head. In fact, you’re starting to feel like things are a little stalled.
I know. You have a good job. You work for an interesting company, and you like your boss and co-workers. And I also know that, sometimes, sticking with the status quo is exactly what you want out of your career.
But, if it’s important to you to continue growing and advancing in your professional life, it’s time to pay attention to how your job is affecting your career as a whole. And, more importantly, to recognize these signs that tell you when it might be at a standstill.
1. The Only Way You Can Move Up Is if Your Boss Retires
Or, you know, gets hit by a bus Regina George-style. If you’re in one of those organizations with a rigid structure where everyone moves up the same ladder—and the rung ahead of you won’t be vacated anytime soon—then a promotion or advancement probably isn’t on the horizon for you.
If this is the case, you can (and should) talk to your supervisor about what your options are. Could you at least take on some new responsibilities? Or, if there isn’t an opportunity for you in your current department, maybe there is in another. Of course, if you’ve done that, and there’s still no hope of movement, there’s nowhere for you to go but out.
You can also avoid this dilemma in your next position by asking questions like this during interviews: “How do employees grow and develop their careers here?” or “What does a typical career path at your company look like?”
2. You Get Passed Over for a Promotion More Than Once
Whatever the reason behind this might be, the fact is something or someone is preventing you from moving up in your current organization.
Before packing up your things, do take the time to sit down your manager and ask why this happened again. Perhaps it’s something you’re doing and you’re unwittingly self-sabotaging—if that’s the case, you have something to work on. But if no one’s giving you a clear reason on why you got passed over, it’s likely that not much is going to change in the future.
3. Your Company Is Cutting Back
During the recession, there wasn’t much you could do about your employer tightening its belt—everyone else was doing the same thing. But now, with a healthier economy, you have more options, and you should pay attention if your company seems to be cutting back.
You don’t even necessarily need to be seeing mass layoffs or salary freezes. Just look out for signs that business isn’t really growing, like dwindling job openings or the fact that every major player in your industry is moving in a similar direction—while yours remains stagnant. If growth really is slowing down, pretty soon you’re going to be in that first “situation” I mentioned.
4. Your Whole Industry Is Shrinking
This one requires taking a step back. The realization that the industry you’ve built your career in is slowly disappearing is not one that goes over well for many people. But the earlier you catch on to it, the better off you’ll be. Yes, it’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s better to know now, rather than be blindsided later on.
The good news? Plenty of people change careers. You can prepare by starting to think about what (else) you’d like to do with your life. What do you love about your job now? What are some things you’ve always been interested in? What are some interesting jobs you’ve seen friends and colleagues have? Take those answers and see what other fields utilize those skills and talents.
Once you’ve recognized that there’s a problem, the next step is to do something about it. (Spoiler alert: It probably involves looking for a new job.) If you’re not quite ready for that, a good first step is doing some networking to see what’s out there. Then, once you get to the point you know you need to make a change, you’ll be in a good position to launch right into job search mode.
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Lily Zhang serves as a Career Development Specialist at MIT where she works with a range of students from undergraduates to PhDs on how to reach their career aspirations. When she's not indulging in a new book or video game, she's thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author