What do you do when your dead-end job isn’t giving you the skills you need to escape? Human Resource is on the case.
Dear Human Resource,
I have a low-level clerical job. It’s ok for paying the bills. But I’m not exactly learning new skills or making big achievements to put on a résumé. Most of the other people with my job title are middle-aged folks who seem intent on keeping the job until retirement. How do I get out?
You have two choices — and if I were you I’d choose both at the same time.
First, get serious about exploring what skills you might be able to pick up on your current job. Second, start looking for a job elsewhere that offers more opportunities for potential advancement, even if it’s at the same level you are right now.
If you’re waiting for the moment when a thoughtful manager takes you under her wing, helps you determine what your career should look like, and sets up all the learning experiences you’ll need to get there, you will probably be waiting a very long time.
The person who needs to take the lead on acquiring the skills to get you where you want to go is the person who genuinely cares about that more than anyone else: You!
This question emerged in the comments, and when another reader wondered if you have opportunities to ask for more responsibility, you replied: “I could take on extra work, but ‘more’ responsibility would not necessarily be ‘greater’ responsibility.”
I strongly agree that just asking for “more work” is not a great plan. A typical manager is likely to be less interested in your personal development than in dealing with whatever fires need to be put out. So be strategic—and selfish!
Think about what you want to do. Think about what you need to learn. Now look around. Is there a project you could get involved in that would help? Is there a particular manager, colleague, peer, anybody who possesses skills that interest you? Can you work with this person on something, helping out, whatever?
Be creative in your thinking: Don’t trap yourself by just imagining a line on your résumé and setting out to fill in that blank. Try to work with people you admire, and stay open to picking up skills you didn’t even know you were looking for. You’re also building relationships that may pay off later—in the form of a reference, for instance.
Consider Plan B
Meanwhile, start looking outside, too. Don’t worry about moving up right now; taking something similar to what you have is fine. Focus instead on jobs that offer a better future than you currently have—in the form of skills you could acquire, and some potential path(s) of advancement.
While you’re looking, you don’t have to just tread water. Consider what relevant skills you can pick up elsewhere right now, through classes, online programs, volunteer work, and so on.
Again, be strategic. Think about what you want to achieve: the particular skills you want to claim, and the best way to demonstrate them. If you’re not 100 per cent certain, that’s fine. Experiment, be curious, and learn about yourself as you go.
The argument for pursuing both strategies at once is that in a way they’ll reinforce each other.
Most important, you always want to take a proactive approach; don’t wait for the moment when your job becomes so intolerable that you’ll do anything to escape.
So start exploring options right now, both within your company—and without it.
Send your work-world questions to [email protected]. Questions may be edited for length and clarity.