12 Reasons Your Career is Going Nowhere

Stressed out businesswoman in office.
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Just about everyone wants to advance in their career. Some people are willing to work hard and sacrifice to make it happen. Others prefer to play it safe and then they wonder why they go nowhere.

To move ahead in your career, you might have to face some harsh realities -- about yourself and your organization -- and make some tough choices to make it happen.

Here are 12 reasons why your career is going nowhere, and what you might be able to do to remedy the situation.

1. You're Too Comfortable Another way to put this is that you like your job too much. Wait, is that even possible?

While it might seem like loving your work would help you to advance your career, the opposite is often true. If you like the position you're in, your boss, your coworkers, and your routine too much, you can get so comfortable that you lose the desire and ambition to do what's necessary to advance your career.

Then again, if you love your job that much, why are you reading this post? There's nothing wrong with being content and satisfied with where you are. But if you eventually want to climb the corporate ladder, a certain amount of dissatisfaction with your current circumstances is often necessary to provide the motivation that you need to move forward. If you're completely comfortable in the position that you're in right now, you might be unconsciously avoiding doing what you need to do to move ahead.

2. You Have Too Many Interests Off the Job

The people who usually move the farthest and the fastest in a company or career are often the ones who are basically obsessed with their work. If you have lots of interests off the job, that can get in the way of your next promotion. For example, if have major recreational interests that eat up most of your time off the clock, you just might not have either the time or the motivation to push your career ahead.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though. For many people, their real passions exist outside of their career; the job is simply the vehicle that affords them the time and money to pursue those interests, like visiting every In-N-Out Burger in the world (a guy can dream, right?). But if you decide that advancing your career becomes a priority above your recreational pursuits, you may have to consider minimizing, or even giving up one or more of your non-business interests.

3. You Lack a Critical Skill or Two

This is something that holds a lot of people back. Overall, you're good at your job, but there is one, or maybe two, important skills you lack that are keeping you from advancing. If it's a relatively minor skill, such as learning more about a particular software program that's important in your company or industry, that can be pretty easy to overcome.

But sometimes the missing skill is something more substantial -- something you might hesitate to even take on.

For example, let's say that you are in a job where advancing will require speaking before groups. A lot of people are deathly afraid of doing just that. For that reason, learning to do so could be a major obstacle. Another example can be sales. Sales are required to advance in a lot of job capacities, but if you don't have hands-on sales skills, it could be holding you back.

If either of these skills, or one that is equally challenging, is standing in the way of you moving forward in your career, you may have to suck it up and get the necessary training and experience. That could involve taking a course or two outside of work, and then getting practice under controlled circumstances. This could mean speaking before small, friendly groups in your company, or handling inside sales on the job.

Still another option is to take a part-time job that will enable you to learn the skill that you need in a real-world environment, but one where you aren't dependent on the job or the income. For example, you can take a part-time job that involves face-to-face sales. Sometimes the most important aspect of selling is just getting comfortable with it. That can happen if you begin working with it in a low-pressure environment. And then when you think you're ready, you can bring it out on your full-time job.

4. You Don't Get Along With Your Boss

This will be a major obstacle to advancing in your career, no matter what that career is. If you don't get along with your boss, it will be close to impossible to improve your career prospects in the job that you are in right now. Worse, all the options that you have are pretty bad.

The first, best way to deal with this problem is to find a way to make peace with your boss, and to find as much common ground as possible. The difficulty with this approach is that puts all of the burden on you to make it happen. But one of the best ways to do this is by finding out what your boss's biggest concerns are, and how you can help him or her overcome them. By positioning yourself as your boss's ally, you may be able to put aside the animosity that has existed up to this point.

If that effort fails, your only option will be to get a new boss, and that usually requires finding a new job. Naturally, if you're forced to go this route, you'll have to make sure that you establish the firm basis for good relationship with your new boss. Two bad boss relationships in a row can be a real career killer.

5. You're Working For a Boss Who's Going Nowhere

One common way that people move ahead in their careers is by riding on the coattails of their boss. If your boss is on an elevator ride up, and you are a trusted loyalist in tow, you will often move up as well. Unfortunately, if your boss has been stuck in the same job for longer than five years, you're not getting help on that front.

As a rule, employers are reluctant to promote people over their bosses. It tends to create harmony problems, not to mention a bruised ego by your former boss. But that creates a roadblock in that if your boss's career isn't going anywhere, yours probably isn't either.

The only way around this dilemma is to get out from under your static boss. That will require that you either transfer to a different department, or you make a move to another employer. Both moves have their own risks however. Once you make the change, you may have to put in certain time requirements before you are eligible for promotion. Another is that the new boss could turn into a sudden roadblock, and be just as stuck as your old boss.

Once again, there are no easy solutions to this problem, but in-action is generally the worst of course of all.

6. Upper Management Doesn't Know You Exist

Sometimes you actually can leapfrog over your boss, but only if upper management -- defined as anyone higher in rank than your boss -- is aware of your skills and talents, and has a generally favorable view of you. However, if no one in upper management seriously knows you or what you do, you don't have a chance.

You can approach this from a social standpoint, which means interacting with members of upper management in a non-confrontational way (translation: the purpose should never be to complain about your boss). You might also work on getting involved in projects and activities that have higher visibility. The idea is to get noticed if you haven't ever been up to this point.

This is a delicate balancing act however, as you have to be careful that you are not obviously trying to upstage your boss. If your boss perceives that you are, a smack down could follow that takes you in the exact opposite direction of where you are hoping to go.

7. You're Working For an Employer Who's Going Nowhere

Just as there are bosses who are going nowhere in their careers, there are also employers who are going nowhere in the pecking order of their industry. Generally speaking, when an organization is underperforming its industry sector, advancement of any kind is extremely hard to come by.

Even if you are very comfortable in your current job, if you plan to advance your career, you'll almost certainly have to leave if your employer fits this description. While you are languishing at the company, people are moving ahead at more successful competitors. You'll have to make sure that you get on board at the more successful companies during the best times to advance, and before you get labeled as a lifer in a losing organization. You never want to settle in at a company that's going nowhere.

8. You're Working in an Industry That's Going Nowhere

This is a far more complicated situation, and it is probably more common today than ever before. Technology is rendering entire industries obsolete. What makes it difficult is that the decline isn't always obvious early on. As a company makes efforts to slow the fall, there can be false starts that give false hope, and keep you where you're at longer than you need to be.

Any time you find yourself in industries in decline, it's important that you make a transition into another industry as soon as possible. Most people in your industry will be reluctant to leave early on, believing that salvation is right around the corner. That makes now the perfect time to go -- before everyone else is out looking. Later on, when the decline becomes painfully obvious to everyone, the stampede will start and your chances of transitioning into an entirely new industry sector will begin to drop rapidly.

9. You Don't Volunteer

Every organization has new projects that come up from time to time. Like a lot of people in your company, you may be reluctant to volunteer for these projects because working on them can change your routine, present you with difficult challenges, and be kind of messy. It's certainly easy to see why anyone would not want to get involved, but doing so is a way of showing management that you are proactive and willing and ready to do what's necessary to advance the goals of the organization.

If you fail to volunteer for special projects at least some of the time, management may assume that you are perfectly comfortable in your cozy routine. And when promotion situations come along, you may very well be passed over.

10. You Prefer Not to Be the Go-To Guy/Girl

You're probably aware that in every department, there are people who step up and take responsibility during times of peak stress. And there are others who kind of disappear during those peaks. You never want to be counted among the second group!

You'll have to do some serious soul-searching here. Some people think that they are stepping up simply because they get their job done. It's as if doing anything more than doing their regular job is outside their paradigm, and beyond consideration. Rest assured that management will be aware of this, and you'll be passed over when a promotion comes around.

Management wants people who they can rely on in difficult and unconventional situations, and though it will make your job even tougher, becoming one of the go-to people in the department is one of the best ways to stand out from the crowd.

11. You Don't Spend Enough Time and Effort on What's Really Important

It would be easy to say instead that you're too easily distracted, but this issue goes way beyond simple distraction. Nearly every job today is multifaceted -- you might have a dozen or more responsibilities that you need to accomplish every week or even every day. That's to be expected, but how you prioritize those responsibilities can have a material effect on your career advancement.

The key is to be able to distinguish between mission-critical functions, and simple busywork. The better that you are at identifying and managing this distinction, the more successful you'll be in your career.

If you do have a lot of responsibilities, you need to pick out the one or two that are most important for your job. Once you do, you have to give top priority to these tasks, and save everything else for later. You're probably aware of what those critically important tasks are, but if you're not, talk to your boss about it. Most likely, your most important functions are the ones that are most important to your boss. He or she may be encouraged at your desire to create such a priority, since it will reflect better on them.

This will help you isolate your most important functions, and to apply the greatest effort at becoming better at them. It's likely that your performance on your most important tasks will define your future career direction.

12. You're Afraid to Take Chances

People often play it too close to the vest when it comes to their careers. It's understandable that you don't want to do anything that will jeopardize your job and your income. But sometimes taking chances is exactly what you need to do.

This is particularly true if you feel that your career has stagnated. This may involve changing jobs, making a career change, or even considering self-employment. For example, if you're in an administrative capacity, and everyone in your organization and industry who is on the career fast-track have a sales background, you may have to take a chance on getting into sales.

While making such a move will be stressful -- and risky -- sometimes the biggest risk is doing nothing. Stagnating in your job could make you layoff bait in the next recession. But showing a willingness to transition into new areas can make you a more valuable employee, which will make you both more promotable and less subject to layoffs.

There's no doubt about it, advancing your career usually means moving outside your comfort zone or interviewing for another job. But that's the price to be paid to move forward, and there's no way to get around it. Make the changes you need to make, then embrace the new direction for all it's worth!
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