How to Break Out of a Career Rut in a Month
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Think you might be stuck in a career rut?
The good news is, career ruts are easy to spot. There’s that telltale sick feeling in your stomach every Monday morning, jealousy when a friend gets a new job that she’s excited about, and a tendency to quickly change the subject when someone asks you what you do for a living.
The bad news? Career ruts are much harder to fix. You might not even know exactly why you’re so miserable, let alone how to solve the problem.
Although it can seem like you’re stuck in never-ending career limbo, your time is valuable, and there’s no need to waste it feeling unmotivated, unappreciated, or just plain unhappy. So we’ve created a simple, four-week plan to put you on the path to career improvement. Just think—one month from today, you could be well on your way to a job that you’re truly passionate about.
Before we delve into the week-by-week plan, here’s a quick tip to make your time as productive as possible: Schedule time for your career improvement, and stick to it.
We’ll be focusing on one task per week, so be sure to set aside a few chunks of time to accomplish it (and commit to keeping these dates with yourself, even if your friends want to grab dinner or the treadmill is calling your name!). In just one month, you—and your career—will be really glad you did.
Week 1: Identify the Problem
Dedicate the first week to focusing on what’s behind your dissatisfaction. Sure, you don’t like your job, but what specifically is bothering you? Do you have too much time on your hands, or are you run ragged from 10-hour days? Maybe you’re stuck in a field that you’re not passionate about or you’re sick of making a long commute to your least-favorite part of the city. It’s important to be as specific and honest as possible.
In addition to identifying the big changes you’d like to make, spend time at the end of each day jotting down things that you don’t like about your current job, as well as things you do. This will help you narrow in on what to look for—and what to avoid—when you make your next move.
Week 2: Research, Research, Research
This will be the most time-intensive week, as you'll figure out what potential jobs or career moves will be the right fit. You may event want to extend the process to two or three weeks, especially if you want to make a big change.
In any case, your goal is to look for positions and places that will capitalize on the things you like about your current role while avoiding the things you don’t like. Start browsing job openings and companies in your field. Does anything sound like it will meet your “great job” criteria? (Hey, you might even realize that you don’t need a new job, you just need to tweak a few aspects of your current position.)
Or, maybe you want to think about a complete career overhaul, like going back to school or changing careers. If this is the case, take some time to think about your interests, hobbies, and passions. Is there something that you love doing that you could look for in a job? Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and explore some ideas that might be a big departure from your current career.
A friend of mine had a traditional office job, but realized that her favorite part of the day was when she left work and headed to the gym. She’s now a part-time personal trainer, and hopes to eventually leave the corporate world behind forever and train clients five days a week.
Career-savvy friends, former collegues, college professors, and professional mentors can also be great assets when you’re trying to revamp your career. Let them know what you’re looking for, and ask if they have any recommendations. Advice from someone who knows you (and your local job market) can be more beneficial than 50 Google searches.
Week 3: Create a Game Plan
This week is all about choosing a goal and creating a game plan to achieve it.
First, hone in on what direction you really want to pursue: Look at all of your options and see which excites you the most or seems most feasible at this point in your life. You might have a couple of potential goals, and that’s OK—just follow this part of the process for each one.
Once you’ve chosen a goal, start mapping out what you’ll need to do to achieve it. Let’s say, for example, that you’re a PR professional currently working at a small agency, and your goal is to get a job with one of the top three firms in your city within six months.
Your game plan might look something like this:
- Evaluate my skills. Do I have everything I need to qualify for Account Executive positions at big firms, or should I enroll in classes or take on some pro bono projects to get more experience?
- Update my resume, portfolio, and LinkedIn profile to reflect my latest and greatest work and accomplishments.
- Browse LinkedIn and send an email to my network to see if I have any contacts within the firms who might be willing to put in a good word for me. Set coffee dates with each of these contacts.
- Check out open positions at each firm. Draft targeted cover letters and applications for each firm, and apply.
- Attend at least one networking event per week to make new connections at these firms.
Obviously, everyone’s game plan will look different. The point is that you can achieve almost any task—even ones as big as landing a new gig—by breaking it up into small, manageable bites.
Week 4: Get Started
Now it’s time to get the ball rolling on your career plan.
In week three, you listed all the tasks you’d need to finish to complete your goal. Now, it’s time to get out your calendar and actually schedule those steps.
Depending on how much free time you have (and how desperate you are to get out of your current rut), you might want to try to complete part of your game plan every two or three days, every week, or every other week. It might seem silly or tedious to write out what you want to accomplish on your calendar, but it will keep you accountable to achieving your goal.
Of course, actually achieving all the parts of your “game plan” might take weeks or even months. The key is to make sure that you’re setting manageable goals and then committing yourself to accomplishing them.
Don’t let yourself lose momentum during this part of the process, and continue to carve out time to achieve your weekly or daily goals. Keep a reminder of why you’re working so hard—maybe a picture of your dream office or a motivational note to yourself—nearby to keep you focused on what you’re trying to accomplish.
After you’ve completed this four-week program, give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back. In a single month, you’ve done what some people never accomplish—put yourself on the path to a career that is truly right for you.