Ask LH: How Can I Progress In A Dead-End Job?

Ask LH: How Can I Progress In A Dead-End Job?

Hi Lifehacker, I have been in my current job for a couple of years now. I love the role, but there does not seem to be any chance of career advancement in my department. Any ideas as to how I could make my company notice that I am not just good at my current role? Thanks, Unable To Advance Past Go

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Most managers don’t have the time or wherewithal to chart the career trajectory of their employees; they’re too busy running day-to-day operations. If you want to see results, you usually need to take the bull by the horns yourself. As we have noted in the past, there are various strategies and tactics you can employ in a bid to get noticed for a promotion. (Click on the above links to see some popular methods.)

That said, most of these techniques are extremely subtle with no guarantee of a payoff. For quick results, you’d be better served by taking a direct approach. Start by telling your manager that you want to explore new options within the company and are willing to undertake any training that might be required. If he/she gives you a flaky or evasive answer, it’s a pretty good bet that any career progression is unlikely.

The sad fact is that some workplaces are more stagnant than others, even within the same industry. Crazy John’s founder John Ilhan decided to leave his prior job at Ford for this very reason:

Leaving Ford was important because I never got a crack at a promotion. Within a three-year period I never got a promotion. They kept giving them to the graduates and I was looked down upon because I wasn’t a graduate. I was the best-qualified person for the job, but I just never got a go. So I got fed up with that and went to Strathfield Car Radio when the phone industry began.

In other words, if your manager wont come to the table, it might be time to dust off your resume and start looking for new employment elsewhere.

On the other hand, your boss could be surprisingly receptive to the idea. It’s usually easier to retrain an existing staff member than to bring on someone new (assuming your existing skills are translatable). With luck, a suitable position will open up which you can neatly slot into.

Before you make your play, it’s important to examine the company and identify the specific areas that you think you might like to work in. Do your research and have answers ready for whatever questions the manager might throw at you — otherwise it will look like you have no career path in mind and just want more money.

Just be mindful that promotions aren’t always the best career move; especially if you already love what you’re doing. While it’s obviously nice to have extra money, this shouldn’t come at the expense of your happiness. You could discover that the extra responsibility, stress and work hours don’t justify the pay bump.

If any movers-and-shakers have additional advice to impart, let UTAPG know in the comments section below.


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  • Put together a Personal Development plan – then workshop it with your manager. A PDP covers where you want to go and maps out a plan to get there – all within the sphere of the business. If you’re happy where you are then think about the extra skills you can learn that will be advantageous to the business. Having a plan for yourself then aligning it with the business plan will ensure both you and the business derive a benefit from your progression.

    If they don’t align then it may be time to move on – unless you truly are comfortable in your current role.

    • A good company will make your personal development plan part of your manager’s own development, and it follows up the chain. I’ve worked in a lot of shitty places where it seemed like our development and career path seemed non-existent: just do your job, drone! I feel like if you are effective in your job and there’s nothing you can do to get noticed when there are promotions available, you need to find a new company. If nothing else, your threatening to leave is going to get your boss to consider how valuable you are and fight for you to stay if he feels like it’s worthwhile.

      I’ve found a good job in a good company where they want us to develop not only to make us more effective in our roles, but they encourage us not to think that the only moves for us are upwards via “dead man’s shoes”. There’s plenty of lateral opportunities within the business and enhancing your skillset and knowledge base is hardly going to make you any less valuable.

  • My old boss said to me the easiest way to progress your career is to change companies and move into new roles rather than wait for opportunities. obviously that depends on where you work but I got a 25% pay increase by changing companies and doing basically the same job. The person i would have been waiting for to quit so I could advance is still there 5 years later. So it was a wise move in the end because otherwise I would have wasted 5 years of my career hoping for an opportunity that never would have presented itself.

    • Each time I have changed jobs it always landed me a salary increase of at least $15K.

      As a general rule, if you know its a dead end job, and you’ve been there for at least 2 years its probably a good time to jump ship and NOT burn your bridges while doing so.

  • I good tip to move up the ladder is to relocate to Darwin, they get a lot people from all over Australia there to take jobs but most go troppo in the summer time and leave.

    This leaves a lot of empty positions higher up the food chain if you can stomach the weather and gets you management/senior experience for your next job.

    I had two friends who moved up there, one started in accounts and ended up GM in 2 years the other started in desktop support and was sys admin in less than a year.

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