If careers were like roads, there would be big “Dead-End” signs posted on 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.
If you’ve been asking yourself, “Should I quit my job?” it might be time to assess your current circumstances. Check for these signs that you’re in a dead-end job — and learn how to boost your pay and opportunities before throwing in the towel.
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 stuck in a dead-end job.
“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: Find Another Boss in a Different Department
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 leave your job. Or, see if you can move to a different department within your company.
“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,” Copeland said. And then use these tips to make your boss love you.
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 from outside. 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 open positions. If so, that might mean there’s little 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: Talk to Other Departments
You could look for other companies with similar policies and move up the ladder 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.
Before Googling “how to quit a job,” ask employees in other departments what their experiences have been. There’s no sense in leaving one dead-end position for another.
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? If so, that could be a sign that you’re in a dead-end job — and that you need to take steps to change careers.
“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 scoring a promotion.
What You Should Do: Make a List
Write out 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,” Phillips said. “Your health will thank you.”
Sign No. 4: You’re Never Offered Projects That Challenge You
Most of us look forward to new, challenging projects that test our ingenuity and skill. But if every time a new or special assignment 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, Copeland said.
“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: Challenge Yourself
“Before you lose hope, approach your manager and offer to take on more challenging projects. Some managers might be waiting to see you take initiative,” Copeland said.
But if the trend continues, it might be time to quit your job and dust off that resume before it’s too late.
Sign No. 5: Team Members Never Consider Your Input Valuable
Many companies foster a team environment in which 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,” Copeland said. If your team doesn’t support you, acknowledge you or consider your ideas, it’s unlikely that your managers will either.
Beyond LinkedIn: 7 Ways to Build a Powerful Network
What You Should Do: Try to Bond With Your Team
First, try to improve your relationships with each team member, Copeland said. “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,” she said.
Sign No. 6: A Machine Could Do Your Job
We’re not necessarily talking about literal machines. But if the tasks assigned to you are 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 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: Increase Efficiency
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,” Heisler said. “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.”
Sign No. 7: Your Industry Is Shrinking
Years ago, the Yellow Pages industry was a popular one to work in, Copeland said. Now, it’s a survival challenge. If you suspect your industry could be on the endangered 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, said Jean Erickson Walker, a Portland, Ore., 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: Improve Your Skills
If you think your industry might be going the way of record stores, 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,” Walker said.
About the Author
Terence Loose is an award-winning freelance writer who writes about everything from travel and sport to fitness and finance. He is a Hawaii-based writer who has covered a broad range of topics during his 20-plus-year career, from finance and education to travel and celebrity. He is a former editor for both Movieline and COAST Magazines and his work has appeared in publications as diverse as COAST, Riviera and Movieline to the L.A. Times Magazine and Orange County Register.