Are you in a job where the only way to move up is to get out? Is your role becoming obsolete, as the skills required are being replaced by technology? Are your colleagues given opportunities that you’re not?
If you answered yes to any of the above, there’s a good chance your career has come to a standstill. That’s right; you’re stuck in a dead-end job.
“A dead-end job is one where you don’t see any opportunity for growth,” says Shweta Khare, a career and job search expert. “An everyday task seems like a burden, not an achievement. Or you’re stuck at a workplace that offers no appreciation or acknowledgement for your work.”
Almost everyone experiences this at some point in their career, says Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant; How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job. “It is often difficult at first to discern if you’re in a stagnant position. The realization rarely happens overnight because oftentimes the employee has offered to take on more challenging assignments, but that falls on deaf ears. After hitting enough walls, however, you realize that those efforts and energy could be better placed toward a new job search.”
But before you throw in the towel, you need to determine whether you’re actually in a dead-end job, or you simply don’t like what you’re doing. “The former we need to assess with regard to the company we work for and the job potential itself. The latter is not about the job or the company; it’s about us,” says Joyce K. Reynolds, an expert business coach. “It’s vitally important for each of us to know and assess the difference.”
Here are 20 tell-tale signs that you’re stuck in a dead-end job:
Your work offers no change in routine; it’s very mechanical. “This is perhaps what you’d be doing five years from now, and your career goals do not align with what you currently do,” Khare says.
“If your position feels static and you don’t see a way to earn further responsibilities or get ahead even after offering ideas on the subject, you’re probably in a dead-end job,” Reynolds adds.
Your skills are not being tapped. “Your supervisor doesn’t tap into your skills set or go beyond what you’ve been contributing for quite some time,” Taylor says. You may have been passed over for promotion – or your requests to take on more challenging projects have been ignored.
They’re not interested in your career goals. You are not being asked about your professional goals or future plans, says Tina Nicolai, an executive career coach and résumé writer.
They don’t support your career plan. You are asked about your goals and plans, but the boss pays no attention to them or doesn’t support you in reaching them, Khare says.
You’re subject to unfair treatment. You notice your colleagues are getting opportunities you don’t get, says David Shindler, author of Learning to Leap and founder of social learning site, The Employability Hub.
You’re not challenged. You feel unchallenged by your job, your boss, or your co-workers with no welcome avenue to change things, Reynolds says.
Your thoughts and contributions are not valued. Your voice is no longer heard and your opinions are no longer valued, Shindler adds.
You can’t get time with the boss to move projects forward. Your projects seem to get lost in the abyss. “Essentially, you are being ignored out of a job; e-mails go unanswered and you’re lucky if you catch your boss in the restroom,” Taylor says.
No change in pay, title or tasks. You have been doing the same work for more than one or two years without a promotion, increase in pay, or increased responsibility. “While some people may enjoy working on the same tasks, a tell-tale sign of a dead-end job is employees who are not being offered advancement or new training,” Nicolai says.
You get that Monday morning feeling nearly every day. “What you used to enjoy doing is no longer enjoyable,” Shindler says.
“No enthusiasm to get up and go to work is a sign you’re in a dead-end job,” Khare adds. “There’s no challenge, no opportunity that excites you at the workplace.”
Attempts to change or improve your job are not welcomed. “If you’ve tried reinventing yourself at the company, modifying your job description or proposed a lateral move to no avail, then it’s time to look elsewhere,” Taylor says.
Your values and the firm’s values are not aligned. “Maybe there are cultural differences; clashes in environmental aspects of its operations; civic responsibility or work ethic issues, et cetera,” Taylor says. Whatever the matter, if it is known that there is a mismatch, and both of you are uncomfortable, your career isn’t likely to move forward at that company.
You’re not an asset to your team or department. You don’t feel like an important part of your team.
They hire outside talent. You realize that the corporate culture is to bring in outside talent when high-level positions open up, instead of promoting from within, Reynolds says.
You see favoritism or bias in management practices. “If you’re not on their good side, you’ll probably be stuck doing what you are doing without any promotion in sight,” Khare says.
Your employer is sinking. “You research and discover your company is not doing well,” Reynolds says. “Profits are stagnant or down. The industry is not growing.” Also, if your company is conducting numerous layoffs, and your desk is looking too clean from a lack of projects due to no fault of your own, you might be in a dead-end job, Taylor adds. “And do you really want to be with a firm that’s might tank, especially if little communication is being doled out?”
You’re too comfortable. There’s a sense of too much comfort with the status quo.
You’re not being compensated fairly. If you’re made to feel fortunate to receive a paycheck or that you’re being overpaid, those are red flags, Taylor says.
A machine can do your job. Your role is becoming obsolete, as the skills required are being replaced by technology, Nicolai says.
There’s no praise in sight. No matter what you do, you can’t seem to please. “If you move mountains for the company, the silence that follows is deafening,” Taylor says.
So, what can you do if you are stuck in a dead-end job?
“The most important thing is to take responsibility for your job quality and success,” Reynolds says. “Don’t blame a company for your situation. Rather assess honestly, take action and, thoughtfully, purposefully go where you can flourish.”
Here are eight additional tips:
Speak up. If you’re in this quagmire and haven’t spoken up, now is a good time, Taylor says. “Some employees avoid all challenging communications with their supervisors and could have enjoyed the upward mobility they sought. Know how much effort is worth putting forth; what will be your return on investment? Are you fighting something beyond your control, be it outside influences or a mere mismatch between your skills and the current needs of the company? It’s the company’s responsibility to live up to its promises, assuming your performance is good.”
Create a personal document to examine what can be done, if anything, to improve your current situation. Beware of hastily trading one set of problems for another, Taylor says.
Identify a compelling future for yourself and use it as a motivator to take action. “A positive impetus is healthier than a resentful one,” says Shindler. “Better to move towards buying that cool car you’ve always wanted than walk away from the rust-bucket that’s literally been driving you crazy without an alternative.”
Continue doing your job well. If you’ve decided to look for a new job, keep doing your best work in your current position, Taylor says. You don’t want to burn bridges, especially if you’ll need good references.
Identify your strengths and weaknesses. Identify the things about your current job that would be useful to take forward into your next move and write down your successes, Shindler says. “There are always good points, learning and achievements to draw upon from any situation.” Also figure out what you could improve before you start searching for new opportunities.
Gain experience outside of the office. If your dead-end job doesn’t allow you to hone your skills, take a class to advance and develop the ones that will benefit you in the future, Nicolai says. “Self development is key.” Another way to do this: Volunteer during your down time in an effort to further develop your leadership skills and résumé.
Examine the risks that are associated with leaving your dead-end job. Be sure it’s absolutely the right decision before you make any big moves.
Do your homework so that you choose well in your next job. You wouldn’t want to end up in another dead-end position. One way to do this: During job interviews, ask the employer about career development and advancement opportunities.
Nicolai says if you find yourself stuck in your position, try to carve out 30-minutes a day to focus on new goals, ideas and aspirations. "Jot down your goals and steps to work towards them. Many people stuck in dead end jobs have started or launched their small businesses on the side. Thirty minutes a day can be found in your commute, waiting in car lines, or traffic," she says.
“Getting unstuck from a dead-end job is not about having a positive attitude, but about positive action,” Khare adds. “Don’t say there is no room for growth. Make new doors and explore new territories. Where there is no upward growth, go for lateral moves. Don’t wait for an acknowledgement; tell them and show them that you deserve better. It’s all about awareness, initiative and positive action," she concludes.