If careers were like roads, there would be big Dead-End signs posted on millions of cubicles around the country. But careers are slightly more difficult to navigate than highways, and it’s hard to know whether your job has you in the fast lane to a bright future — or on the road to nowhere.
To find out which direction you’re heading, check for these seven common signs that indicate you’re in a dead-end job. We asked career experts how to spot the signs, what they mean and what you can do to avoid being trapped.
Dead-End Sign No. 1: Your boss shows no interest in your career goals.
Like it or not, your boss has a lot to do with you achieving your career goals. So if he or she isn’t even clear on what those goals are — and shows no signs of wanting to know — you could be staring down a big Dead-End Job sign.
“Even if you’re the very best at your job, if your boss doesn’t see it, you’ll never move ahead,” said Angela Copeland, a career coach and columnist with the Memphis Daily News.
What you should do: If you’ve made your career goals clear to your boss and you’ve been with the company for more than a year but nothing has changed, it might be time to move on. “If you’re set on staying with the same company, consider looking for a role in another department with a boss who will appreciate your strengths,” said Copeland.
Dead-End Sign No. 2: When promotions come up, your company looks outside.
You’ve had your eye on a higher-level position for some time. Finally, it opens up and you’re sure you’re next in line for the promotion. But then you get the memo: A new person with a similar resume to yours has been brought in for the job. That’s not a good sign.
If this happens regularly, it could be a red flag that management subscribes to the philosophy of looking outside the company for “new blood” with “fresh ideas” when it comes to opening positions. If so, that might mean there’s little or no opportunity to get a promotion, said Keisha Blair, co-founder of Aspire Canada, which helps young people achieve successful careers through mentorships.
What you should do: You could look for other companies that have similar policies and move up the same way the outsider who took your promotion did, said Blair. Or, you could move laterally in your current company if another department has a better promote-from-within policy, she said. Ask other employees in other departments what their experiences have been, however. There’s no sense in leaving one dead-end position for another.
Dead-End Sign No. 3: You dread going to work every day.
Does the thought of going to work in the morning stir up emotions usually associated with doing your taxes and a receiving a death sentence? If so, that could be a sign you’re in a dead-end job.
“Can a red flag be waving any more frantically?” asked Carol Phillips, a national health and wellness expert and author of “52 Simple Ways to Health.” According to her, being burned-out, unchallenged or unmotivated will be obvious to management and could lock you out of any promotion.
What you should do: Make a list of all the things you hate about your job and put a check mark next to the ones you can change for the better. “If you lack the ability to change the ones that cause you the most stress, update your resume and start chasing a job that sparks your passion,” said Phillips. “Your health will thank you.”
Dead-End Sign No. 4: You are never offered projects that challenge you.
Unless you dig latrines for a living, you probably look forward to new, challenging projects that test your ingenuity and skill. But if every time a new or special project comes up and it goes to the cubicle next to yours, it could mean you’ll never get the chance to showcase your skills. That equals a dead-end job, said Copeland.
“If you aren’t getting projects that challenge you, your skills won’t continue to grow and develop,” she said. Over time, that can create difficulty in finding a new job or moving up in the company.
What you should do: “Before you lose hope, approach your manager and offer to take on more challenging projects. Some managers may be waiting to see you take initiative,” advised Copeland. But if the trend continues, it might be time to quit your job and dust off that resume before it’s too late.
Dead-End Sign No. 5: Team members never consider your input valuable.
Many companies foster a team environment where you become part of a tight group that tackles important projects. It can feel like a company within the company, and your opinions and ideas should carry weight. But if you’re feeling like an uninvited guest at a family wedding, it could be a sign your future isn’t so blissful.
“Team dynamic is critical for your long-term success within a company,” said Copeland. If your team doesn’t support you, acknowledge you or consider your ideas, it’s unlikely that your managers will either.
What you should do: First, try to improve your relationships with each team member, said Copeland. “But if it becomes clear that you’re not moving in the right direction, it might be time to move on,” she said. Join another team or search for another job. Just make sure you “find a healthy environment that will support you and your career goals.”
Dead-End Sign No. 6: A machine could do your job.
We’re not necessarily talking literally here. But if the tasks assigned to you are so mundane and below your education, training and skills — you have an impressive degree but you’re still head coffee maker and chief paper filer — it could be a sign that you’re in the dead-end zone.
Perhaps your boss has no confidence in your skills or your ability to actually think on the job, said Cheryl Rich Heisler, president of Lawternatives, a Chicago-based career consulting firm. Creativity is a much-cherished asset in any upwardly mobile career, so if yours isn’t being tapped, it could be a problem for your future.
What you should do: Try to come up with a new twist on the mundane tasks assigned to you. “Demonstrate how even the most rote job can be done better, faster and more efficiently. If you can prove yourself at even the most basic level, the boss may begin to give you other opportunities to showcase what you can actually do,” said Heisler.
Dead-End Sign No. 7: Your industry is shrinking.
Years ago, the Yellow Pages industry was a popular one to work in, said Copeland. Now, it’s a survival challenge. If you suspect your industry could be on the endangered species list, it could mean you’re heading down a dead end.
But before taking any action, do your research to see where your company stands in the industry, suggested Jean Erickson Walker, a Portland, Ore.-based executive coach. There is always a place for an outstanding producer — even in a small industry — so first verify how bad your situation is.
What you should do: If you think your industry might be going the way of record stores and newspapers, take heart — you have options. First, find out if your company is preparing for the changes it will have to make. If not, grow your skill set while you still have a paycheck. You can go back to school, attain certifications and network aggressively. The important thing is to “use this time to set yourself up for your next career move,” said Walker.
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