How to decide if your job is a dead end

"I really feel stuck in my job," a colleague confided recently. "I feel like my career is on auto pilot. I just show up every day and do the same old thing. I’ve lost the old spark. I’m wondering if I should start looking for a new job but with the economy slowing down maybe I’m better staying right where I am." Sound familiar? Career inertia seems to intensify during periods of economic unrest. But too often, people use times like this to give themselves an excuse to do nothing, without realistically examining the facts.

If you choose stay where you are, do it on purpose, not by default. Here’s how to analyze if you’re at a dead end and need to move on.

How do you know you’re in a dead end job?

If you have been doing the same job for more than three years and the job has become routine, it’s time to analyze your situation.

  • Have you learned anything new in the last 12 months?
  • Have you been given a project where you stretched your capabilities?
  • Have you talked to your manager and asked him or her for more responsibility without any results?
  • When you look around your department, do you see other people who have been on their jobs for years with little upward or sideways career growth?
  • Are there few places for you to move upward?
  • Are most openings filled from the outside?

How can you take steps to break out of a dead end job without leaving the job?

Look for problems to solve.

Chances are you regularly encounter customer problems, departmental changes or new initiatives that are causing your coworkers to struggle or complain. Those areas are usually ripe for an experienced person like you to step in and create a project. For example, a bank teller saw the angst among her peers when they were expected to start cross-selling new financial products. She took the initiative and volunteered to create a training program for selling skills. It led her to a new job as a trainer.

Talk to your manager and ask for something new.

Most managers are happy to accommodate an employee who wants to take on more responsibility, provided they are performing at a satisfactory level in their current job. For instance, there was an employee who was the office manager in a small company and there was no job above hers, besides the owner. After an honest conversation about needing a new challenge, she was given the assignment of overhauling the website. This provided the new challenge she needed and it was a project that the owner just hadn’t had time to tackle.

Shouldn’t I be worried about leaving my job now that the economy has slowed down?

In spite of the headlines, there is a lot of hiring activity in certain areas, particularly for professionals and for administrative and technical jobs. To find out about your area of expertise, start reading professional journals in your field, look at the number of want ads in the paper and on job boards and tap into your network of peers. Just because there are some layoffs in one area doesn’t mean jobs have dried up in your career field.

Should I quit so I can devote more time to looking for a new job?

No. Employers are more interested in you if you are currently employed. If you aren’t working they will become suspicious and wonder if you’ve been fired or left under pressure. Why create a barrier to getting hired when you don’t have to?

How do I look while I’m still employed?

There has never been an easier time to find a job while you are employed. The abundance of Internet job boards enables you to look both locally and nationally. In addition, most companies have career pages on their websites, where they post open jobs. In many cases, you can even apply online without a resume. Some companies even ask you to fill out a profile of the job you want and they will send you an email if a job like that opens up.

Once you have a resume, approach your job search like a part-time job. Send out resumes on the weekends and make follow up calls during lunch hours or breaks during the week. Schedule breakfast and lunch meetings as often as you can to network with colleagues who can critique your resume and give you leads. Most new jobs are still acquired through networking; it’s still what you know, who you know and who knows you.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking there will be one right time to make a career move. You may wait too long and find that the years spent in a dead end job have resulted in atrophied skills and slowed initiative. The longer you wait the less employable you may become.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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