Career Advice

Stuck in a Career Rut? Ten Steps to Get Back on Track

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By Steve Choquette



Are you prematurely plateaued in your career?  Are you stuck at your current level, but don’t know why?  You’re doing all you can.  You’re volunteering for every assignment.  You’re working 10-14 hours a day.   But no promotion.

Chances are, everything you’re doing is right, but you’re either in the wrong job, or doing the wrong things.  Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results.  The same can be true for your career … and you may not even know it.

Several years back, I was in this position – a career rut.  I was working many hours on a Strategy team for one of IBM’s software brands.  Lots of hours.  Good contributions to the business.  Then, at the request of my boss, I took a new role leading two major process initiatives across the entire division.  I made lots of great improvements and met lots of executives.  In general, did a bang-up job.  No promotion.  Why?  This role was required, but nobody in the software business really cares much about process.  It is something you have to do, not want to do.  No matter how well I did, this process role would never lead to a promotion.

Four years into this role, I was asked to take a new position.  The division was bringing out its first set of SaaS offerings.  I was in charge of training all of the sellers.  No parameters were given other than that – do what it takes.  I built lots of content for sellers who didn’t know why their clients wanted to move to the cloud, travelled a lot to train sellers, and set up a Center of Excellence so sellers would be successful selling these new offerings.  I heard later that none of the execs I had worked with on the process job thought I would succeed.  Why? Because they had only seen me do the process job, which they didn’t deem important.  Following this, I was asked to take a release management job.  Our product management team was putting out 41 PaaS services.  My role, again undefined, was to take the rocks out of the road to help these services be successful.  I worked with Marketing, Sales, Technical Sales, Analyst & Press Relations, Development, and Product Management – what were the rocks, and how could I remove them.  Interestingly enough, the end result was processes.  What was the difference between these two jobs and the earlier one?  I made a bottom line difference.  The last 2 roles led to a surprise promotion.

Taking the First Steps:
Here are some 11 easy steps you can take today:

  • Set a goal: Identify someone who is doing a job you’d like to be in 3-5 years down the road. Meet with them.  Ask them open-ended questions.
  • Find a mentor: This is someone outside of your organization with more experience that you can bounce ideas off of.
  • Stay current: Be a Subject Matter Expert in your field. What’s hot? What problems could technology solve for your company’s customers?    Look at the training your company offers.  Watch YouTube videos.  Check out Coursera, Udemy, Udacity, and the like.  You may need to do this on your time.
  • Innovate: Come up with creative solutions to hard problems that can make a bottom line difference. Be known as an innovator.
  • Extra effort: It has been estimated that an elite athlete puts in 10000 hours towards their sport. If you work 9 – 5:00, then you will not stand out.  Demonstrate passion.  Complacency is a career killer.
  • Be an agent for change: Examine everything.  “We’ve always done it this way” should cause you to dig deeper, not walk away.
  • Shake things up: Get people excited about what you are doing. Status quo will get you … nothing.
  • Change jobs: Get known across your company as an innovator, an influence, and a difference maker. Consider changing jobs or roles every 2-4 years.   Don’t let fear paralyze you.
  • Tell others: Have regular career discussions with your manager. You own your career.  You are owed nothing by your company.  Earn it.
  • Network: Expand your circle of influence. Be known inside and outside of your organization.
  • Examine your goals monthly. If you are not making progress, chances are, you are plateaued.  Don’t get comfortable.

I didn’t recognize that the steps I was taking in the process job weren’t going to make a difference.  Ever.  Perhaps that is the first step to avoiding career plateauing – accepting that you need to change your thinking before you change your behavior.

It works. Try it out.  Let me know.

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