Dissatisfied With Your Career? Do This, Not That

Bay, It's time for some new things.
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When Johnny Paycheck released “Take This Job and Shove It” in 1977, it rose to the top of the country music charts. That’s because just about everyone in America could relate to a song about being fed up with working too hard for too long with too little reward. 

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If you’re in a career rut that you can’t seem to escape, rest assured that you are not alone. But before you head into work tomorrow and recite the song’s title to your boss, decide first if you need a new career or just a new direction in the job that you already have — and have a plan for when you figure it out. 

Do Decide First If Your Current Job Is Fixable

If you’re fed up with your job, resist the urge to throw up your hands and chalk up the entire thing as a loss. Instead, try to pinpoint the exact source of friction. If a few changes could make your current job salvageable, staying put might be the easier option. 

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“If you’re not sure whether a career switch is the right move, my advice is to write a list of your current sources of work-related dissatisfaction,” said Matt Erhard, managing partner of Summit Search Group. “Once these are written out, sort them into two groups: things that are within your ability to change in your workplace, and things that won’t change unless you switch jobs. Assessing things this way can help you decide if a new job — or even a new career — is the answer.”

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Erhard wants people to remember that communication is key, and an honest conversation with a manager can go a long way.

“This can especially help if you’re feeling stagnated or bored in your current position,” Erhard said. “Learning a new skill or changing up your responsibilities could be the answer to your problems, and there may be opportunities available you won’t know about until you ask.” 

Don’t Obsess Over Skills You May or May Not Have or Need

Make Your Money Work Better for You

A career coach for more than a decade, Rebecca Allen is the founder of Illuminate Personal Growth, and if you’re stuck in career quicksand, she’s willing to bet that you’ve had at least one of these three thoughts: 

  • “I don’t have any options.”
  • “My skills aren’t transferable.”
  • “I don’t have enough experience or expertise to make a change.”

“In this situation, most people focus too intently on their skills and how those skills could be applied to another role,” Allen said. “The problem with this is it keeps their thinking too narrow.” 

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Do Make Your Decision Based On Your Aspirations

Allen counsels her clients to let their goals guide their choices instead of their perception of their own skill sets.

“We would explore their values, ideals and higher purpose first to get a sense of what really matters most to them and what contribution they actually want to make,” she said. “We might discuss what problems they enjoy solving and how they like to add value. Feeling stuck can be paralyzing, but as soon as people start thinking at a more strategic level, they are able to pull themselves up and start looking more objectively about themselves and how their skill sets can be transferred into other opportunities.”

Don’t Start Without a List of Non-Negotiable Deal-Breakers

Once you’ve gathered some ideas about what you want and don’t want, turn those ideas into a list of requirements. 

“To get back on track, make a ‘must-haves’ list for your ideal career,” said Anne Matsushita, career coach at Randstad RiseSmart. “For example, steady income, benefits, a manager where feedback is a two-way street, diversity in ethnicity/gender/age, etc., flexible schedule, opportunities to participate in internal and/or external training, clear path of career growth, chances to network with different departments, culture of transparency, mentorships, etc.”

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Once you have your list of must-haves, these are the next steps, according to Matsushita:

  • Prioritize the items on your list — if you already get most of them from your current job, talk with your manager about what’s missing. Staying at the same place is probably the easiest way to find happiness.
  • If your current job doesn’t check many boxes on your list, it’s time to start looking elsewhere. 
  • Use your list as you’re reviewing job postings, networking and interviewing to get a sense of how well the job and company match what you’re looking for. This can help ensure you’re not in this same difficult situation in the future.

Do Take Some Time Off and Regroup

No matter your situation, it’s always a crime to let personal time off or vacation days die on the vine. If you’re at the end of your rope with your job, then there’s no better time for a long weekend.

“If you have PTO saved up that you don’t have other plans for, this is a good time to use it,” Erhard said. “Sometimes, dissatisfaction is really burnout in disguise, and it may start to fade once you’ve stepped back from the grind for a few days. Even if this isn’t the case, having some time away from the workplace can help give you more perspective on why it’s no longer satisfying.”

See: Should Employers Require Workers To Take Time Off?

Do Gather Information, Refresh Your Network and Reflect

If you’re ready to quit your job, chances are good that you’ve been there for a while — and chances are equally good that you’ve neglected your professional network. 

Historically, most jobs — upwards of 85% — are filled without even being posted online,” said SoFi career expert Ashley Stahl. “Make sure to leverage your network during this time of need and compile a list of contacts you can reach out to. Before connecting with your contacts, make sure to spend some time reflecting on what was and wasn’t working in your previous role. Think about what roles align with your core skill set and what you can bring to the table, and don’t be afraid to get creative and think about different types of roles that can help you grow.”

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Don’t Rely On Someone Else for Education and Self-Improvement

The contacts in your network can help guide you toward your next opportunity. Continuing your education and updating your skills, on the other hand, is up to you.

“While your career trajectory plans may be on pause for the moment, take this downtime to invest into yourself,” Stahl said. “Education is changing, and e-courses are a fast-growing industry. This is no surprise considering the cost of attending college is on average $35,000 per year and you can now take classes taught by industry leaders on websites like Masterclass.com for a fraction of the price.”

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Do Update and Build Your Online Brand

If you’ve let your LinkedIn profile and the rest of your channels gather cobwebs, you’ll want to slap a fresh coat of paint on your online profile before you make any moves.

“You might think a professional brand is only for entrepreneurs, but the reality is, if you want to be a front-runner in your industry, you need to build your brand,” Stahl said. “This starts with updating and adding to your media profiles. Whether you’re currently on the job hunt due to a layoff or looking to make a career change later, you can use this time to keep your credentials up-to-date to stay relevant.”

Do Stay Positive and Believe in Yourself

It sounds like a cliche, but in this case, it’s true — remember that there is real power in positive thinking. 

“My top tip for anyone going through a tough time with their career and potentially seeking something new is to believe in yourself and honor the desire to change,” said entrepreneur June Escalada, co-founder of PhotoshopBuzz. “It’s easy to feel stuck in a certain situation, but you can always start making progress towards something new — it just takes a little effort and motivation. Attitude is everything, regardless of if you are feeling stuck in an old job or looking to start something new. Making a career change can be intimidating and unsettling, but it’s always more than possible. Sometimes you need to go out on a limb and take a risk, but I promise you the rewards are fully worth it.”

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Last updated: Sept. 29, 2021

About the Author

Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. An award-winning writer, Andrew was formerly one of the youngest nationally distributed columnists for the largest newspaper syndicate in the country, the Gannett News Service. He worked as the business section editor for amNewYork, the most widely distributed newspaper in Manhattan, and worked as a copy editor for TheStreet.com, a financial publication in the heart of Wall Street's investment community in New York City.

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