5 Steps To Escape A Job Rut

Should I stay or go? As the economy improves, more people are pondering a job change. Here's what to do if you're currently unhappy at work.

There’s nothing worse than feeling stuck in a job you hate. The good news is, with the economy improving, people who feel stuck in their jobs are looking to make a change, says Sheila Nielsen, president of Chicago-based Nielsen Career Consulting, an executive coaching firm for business and legal professionals.

“People have been sitting on a lot of dissatisfaction,” Nielsen says, noting that she’s contacted at least five times a day by professionals looking to change jobs. “There’s a bit of pent-up need being released.”

If you’re unhappy with your job, Nielsen suggests trying one of these five strategies to get “unstuck.”

1. Assess what “AILS” you

When clients ask whether they should stay at their job or move on, Nielsen asks what “ails” them. The acronym stands for aptitude, interest, lifestyle, and self-actualization. Aptitude is your ability to do the work—whether it comes easily or naturally to you, Nielsen says. Next, ask whether you still find the work interesting. You’re so interested in what you’re doing, time goes by and you feel like you’re underwater, unaware of what’s going on above the surface, Nielsen explains. Most people get a sense of aptitude and interest in college or during their first job, she says.

The next two, lifestyle and self-actualization, are where most professionals get derailed in their search for happiness, Nielsen notes. When assessing lifestyle, consider how much you’re being paid, whether there’s a work-life balance, and whether you’re satisfied with that balance. Self-actualization is the culture of the workplace. Who are you becoming as a person? How are you being shaped? Is your job affecting your health? What’s the company culture doing to you? When the four aren’t working for you, or only one of the four is, Nielsen says, it’s a sign you probably need to move on.

2. Make a List

Nielsen also asks her clients to make a list of what’s essential to them and irritants they should avoid—like micromanagers or screamers. The “irritants” are like allergens you become allergic to after awhile, and you’re sensitive to them in searching for your next position, Nielsen explains. Next, create a work history of every job you’ve ever had—both paid and unpaid—and list the things you liked and disliked about each. As you do this, you’ll see themes emerge, Nielsen says. What do you need to be happy? Is it money? A certain role or job title? Rate these on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest. Then, use the list as a roadmap during your job search. If you hate being micromanaged, for example, you can then ask questions during an informational interview to determine whether the boss is a micromanager, Nielsen suggests.

3. Connect Offline

It’s important to talk to current or former employees to find out whether the job will be a good fit. You can do this via LinkedIn and seeing whether you have any connections in common, Nielsen says. If you use this approach, invite your connection and their contact to get together with you for coffee or a meal. If you want to create a trust relationship, there’s nothing better than meeting in person, Nielsen says. While you can connect over the phone, it’s hard to network behind a computer because you miss nonverbal signals, she says. You may need to get creative to make this happen. Nielsen recalls a client who walked her dog at the same time as someone she wanted to meet, so they could talk at the dog park.

4. Avoid Being Pigeonholed

Be careful not to damage your skill set, Nielsen warns. If you’re a lawyer, for example, and you want to be a litigator, don’t get stuck reviewing documents for three years and not improving other necessary skills like writing or client advocacy. Nor do you want to stay stuck simply because you invested time in a job and leaving would be a waste. Instead, Nielsen suggests reframing that thought and focusing on making an upward move to grow your career. “You’ve built skills and can go to the next level and build some more,” she says. Don’t leave your job until you have something else lined up, Nielsen cautions. Otherwise, the potential employer may worry something happened that they’re not being told about.

5. Don’t Discount Your Current Workplace

If your dissatisfaction stems from your current role as opposed to the company in general, Nielsen suggests looking internally. You may need to have a difficult conversation with your manager about where you’d like to go and what you’d like to do, Nielsen says. “Approach this conversation as a very open-minded person asking questions,” Nielsen says. “What can we do to make it better? [You] don’t have to discard the job if they’re malleable."

Related: Ask The Experts: How Do I Stop Feeling Stuck And Uninspired In My Job?

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