It’s a story everyone writes at least once. You start a new job full of vim and vigor, but your zeal goes from all-consuming to merely comfortable. The job isn’t terrible, it isn’t great, it’s just…routine.
But then routine melts into boredom, disinterest and distraction. You start to procrastinate, surf the ‘Net and take long lunches. You feel both stifled and fatigued. You shirk challenges.
Others notice. You’re quietly excluded from team meetings, overlooked for promotions, and not given new responsibilities.
You’re rooted like a tree – a tree with Dutch Elm on its leaves and longhorned beetles gnawing its trunk. Not only are you not growing, you’re burning bridges and wasting a potential reference for your next gig.
You’ve got career stall.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU’VE STALLED
The cure for job rot isn’t necessarily jumping ship. Career consultants suggest that you take the time to determine if new opportunities exist within your current company. Your employer hired you for a reason: speak with coworkers and your manager to explore the possibility of open roles or additional responsibilities that can expand your skill set and make your job more interesting and challenging.
Most books that deal with burnout or career stall emphasize the need to take stock of your personal goals and develop a clear plan of action to reach them. Sure, it sounds New Age-y, but exercises like this really can put you in touch with what you want. Simply write down your dreams and ambitions, list your skills and talents and decide how you might want to apply them.
YOU ARE MORE THAN A JOB TITLE
You don’t have to do what you’re doing. If you’re in an intermediate or senior role, much of what you do is likely what Peter Drucker called ‘knowledge work’ – the application of aggregate creativity, ideas, understanding and experience rather than job-specific skills. It’s often conceptual in nature and thus highly transferable.
Maybe you can’t go from marketing intern to senior software engineer, but knowledge work lets you look past your job title to see what your skills might allow you to do.
Too much focus on your technical skills can lead to job stall. Stay fresh and be more marketable by expanding your business, communication and leadership skills. You’ll need them if you want to move up.
IF THERE NOWHERE TO GO BUT “OUT”
If leaving your employer is the best (or only) option you should start researching the marketplace for related industries or technologies. This is particularly true in today’s talent-thin and opportunity-rich job market. If you’ve had your head down at a technology company for a few years you might be surprised at the growth of new ideas and competing companies.
Once you know where you want to be, it’s time to take positive action. That may involve additional training or seeking out transitory positions that will allow you to develop needed skills while still leveraging your professional capabilities.
NOT STALLING IN THE FIRST PLACE
Preventing career stagnation starts with a clear understanding of your personal ambitions. Building a business plan for your professional growth can ensure that you are always moving towards your goals.
The way to do that is to continually be looking for opportunities to retrain, cross-train, develop new competencies, and always, always be building your network.
Even when working for someone else, you are still the boss of your own career.