What to do when your job is going nowhere

If you feel like there’s no path for advancement, your job may have reached a dead end. Here’s what to do next.

What to do when your job is going nowhere
[Photo: ognianm/iStock]

Have you stopped feeling challenged at work?  Do you feel like you have nothing left to give or gain from your current position? You may be in a dead-end job.


“A dead-end job means that there is almost no effective path that leads from the current job to your envisioned job or career future,” says New York City-based executive coach Shefali Raina. No matter how well you perform at work, your goals, like career growth, learning, advancement, or compensation, are simply not achievable.

Advancement opportunities aren’t the only elusive thing. Joseph Liu, a career change consultant based in London, says a dead-end job can simply be a job that no longer excites or engages you. “This can result from feeling like you’ve stagnated in your role, your desired way of working no longer aligns with the company’s culture, or your personal ambitions are misaligned with the company’s intended trajectory,” he says.

Being stuck in a dead-end job can cause mental distress and cause to you want to throw in the towel. “Feeling stuck and ineffectual fosters frustration and triggers a flight response in our brains,” says Raina. While it can be tempting to move on right away, experts advise taking these steps before handing in your resignation letter.

Search for clarity

While it can be tempting to jump into change, Raina says you first need to take a step back and assess the reasons you’re feeling stuck. Is the work you’re doing on a daily basis no longer challenging? Is there a boss you don’t get along with? Or is it something that happened recently, such as losing out on a promotion, that is making you feel this way?

Before assuming that a career change is what you need to get “unstuck,” take some time to look to other areas of your life that may be contributing to this feeling of career paralysis. Before you automatically assume that a career change is what you need, look into other areas of your life to see if they are contributing to this “stuck” feeling. Are you eating right, exercising, and sleeping? Not taking the proper time for self-care can lead you to feeling low on energy and cause you to be cranky, contributing to this feeling of being “stuck” in your career or in your life.


Dig deep

Take out a notepad and jot down what made you take your current job in the first place. Then write down all the things that are important to you in your work. Is it a salary figure you want to attain, an opportunity for promotion, the work culture, the impact you can have on society? Ask yourself what you ultimately want to do. What is your dream job? Doing this exercise helps give you clarity on what is important to you. “Ideally, your next career move should be a stepping stone to your ultimate career goal,” says Cheryl Palmer, a certified career coach based in Washington, D.C. If you simply jump ship on your job without doing this internal work, you are likely to end up feeling frustrated and disappointed again in your career.

Pursue side projects

If you’re not finding personal fulfilment at work, Liu advises looking outside your job to feed your interests. This may involve cause volunteering, but can also be as simple as listening to a podcast about something you’re personally interested in while driving home. “The point is to add something to your life that makes you happy,” says Liu. Getting involved in an activity that you find energizing can help you to feel fulfilled, even if your day job is depleting your resources.

Tweak your role

Make a list of the things you enjoy doing in your current role, things that you’re interested in learning more about, and projects that you’d like to get involved with. Speak with your manager and find out if there’s an opportunity to tweak your existing role to allow you to pursue these passions. Perhaps there isn’t, but at least you will know that you asked.

Invest in yourself

A great way to become unstuck is to help yourself grow. Take a course, find a book that excites you, subscribe to industry newsletters, or ask for cross-training opportunities. “Staying current not only makes you a more valuable employee, but also makes you more marketable in case you do decide to move on,” says Palmer.

Engaging in personal growth can help you feel that you are doing more than just sitting in your current position complaining about it going nowhere. Even if there truly is no room for advancement in your current position, taking the time to upgrade your skill set may help you to get through the short-term pain of your dead-end job while making you more attractive to potential employers when you do decide to move on.


Network to find your tribe

If a career change is what you’re looking for, consider joining a networking group with people who are doing the kind of work that excites you. “Good old-fashioned networking, where you connect with and meet people in person, is still one of the most effective ways to explore new career options and uncover untapped opportunities in the job marketplace,” says Liu. Ask questions about their work to find out if it’s a good fit for you. If, after exploration, you decide you do want to make a change, you’ll have built a network of individuals who can help you find your way in this career path.

Remember, getting unstuck requires positive action. Whether you stay in your current company or decide to move on, in order to get unstuck, you will need to take action.

About the author

Lisa Evans is a freelance writer from Toronto who covers topics related to mental and physical health. She strives to help readers make small changes to their daily habits that have a profound and lasting impact on their productivity and overall job satisfaction