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5 Questions to Help You Get Your Career Back On Track

Updated on April 4, 2015

Finding yourself in a dead end job is a lot like being the last person at a singles mixer: You’re not exactly ready to go, but you know there’s no reason to stay. Knowing when to cut your losses, and move on to the next opportunity, is one of the hardest decisions you will have to make in your professional career. Rather than waste your time with self-doubt, self-deception, and resentment, take an objective look at your career from your company’s perspective.

Like it or not, companies are in business to make money, not advance your career. As an employee, you provide a service. Your company pays for that service in the form of a salary. While you may have the intelligence, skills, and ability to fulfill any number of roles in your company, someone has decided that you are best at doing what you’re doing now. In order for that to change, three things have to happen. A new opportunity has to open up. You have to be the best available person for that position. Someone has to assume the duties of the position you currently hold.

If you feel like your career is stuck in neutral, the answers to the following 5 questions will help you discover what you need to do to get moving again.

1) Have your responsibilities diminished? If your responsibilities have recently diminished, it’s important to find out why. Don’t assume your boss is getting ready to fire you. If you are working on a high profile project, your boss may want to focus your attention on a single project to minimize the overall risk to the company. He may also be reacting to your apparent level of stress. Your boss is paid to manage risk and make sure your project is completed on time. If he sees that you are becoming overwhelmed, it’s his responsibility to lighten your load to ensure the project’s success.

On the other hand, if you have been pulled from high profile projects and left to complete non-essential tasks, your career could be in trouble. Take the bull by the horns and schedule a meeting with your supervisor. Remember, your goal at this point is not to overturn his decision, but to determine the cause of his concern. Conduct your meeting like a business meeting with a client. State your questions in a direct, but non-threatening manner. Avoid blame or accusations. Ask you boss for an honest assessment of your work. Do not become defensive, but ask clarifying questions and take notes. Your boss is your customer. If you choose to continue working in the same position, you will need to find a way to meet his or her expectations.

2) Who is in your chain of command? If you suddenly find yourself assigned to a different department, away from your former co-workers, but with the same responsibilities, your career has definitely stalled. Chances are, you have some important technical skills that the company wants to retain, but have very little chance of moving up the corporate ladder. If possible, take advantage of any company training that will allow you to grow into your new department. If not, begin networking heavily, inside and outside of your company. It’s time to look for a new job, if you want to advance.

3) Who comes to talk to you? If your office is the destination for company complainers, your career is definitely in a bad place. The only thing your boss will hate more than incompetence is complaining. Even if you feel that your co-workers gripes are justified, do your best to put some distance between yourself and them. If you really hate what your company is doing, find another job. No one is ever successful in a company that they hate.

4) When was the last time you learned something new? Companies will only invest in employees they want to keep. If you haven’t learned something new in the last two years, your career has definitely stalled. While your employer may rely on you to complete an important task, you won’t get anywhere without learning something new, and teaching someone else how to do your job.

5) What would happen if you did absolutely nothing at work all day? If your duties have diminished to the point that it doesn’t really matter if you show up or not, you are at the end of the line. It’s likely your position will soon be eliminated. Save money, start networking, and get your resume ready.

The worst part of a dead end career is wasted time. If you’ve asked yourself the questions above and get the distinct impression that no one wants to talk to you about it, you’re probably on your way out. Rather than waste time with needless self-recrimination, resentment, and doubt, concentrate on finding your path to a new, more challenging life. Don’t let someone else’s opinion of you define who you are. The only person who gets to decide if you’re a success is you.


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