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Wall Street Journal

Career Journal: The Jungle

by KRIS MAHER
Tuesday, August 6, 2002

 
How do you know if you are at a dead-end job?

After working in the customs department for a clothing maker for six years, Jesse Mitre feels it is time for a career change. The 26-year-old El Paso, Texas, resident says he reached this conclusion after reporting to an unsupportive manager for several years and feeling his own interest in the textile sector wane.


"I realized I didn't want to be there when I saw myself doing the same thing for three years and not getting compensated for what I was accomplishing," Mr. Mitre says. While still employed by the manufacturer, he is studying to become a network engineer and hopes to find a job in the computer industry.

But it isn't always so easy to tell whether a career-path obstruction is a temporary roadblock or the end of the road at a particular firm. Here are some potential warning signs that it might be time to move on:

First, career experts say, you should get an accurate picture of your status at your company. Are you no longer invited to meetings to which you previously contributed? Do colleagues fail to return your calls? Are you excluded from corporate social functions? Are you skipped over for special projects?

You also should evaluate your relationship with your boss, says Allie Roth, a New York career coach. One bad sign: "When your boss avoids your eyes in the hall and you know intuitively that he's avoiding you and other people are not seeking you out."

Beyond that, you also should know how your boss fits into the overall organization, Ms. Roth adds. "If you get a sense that your boss isn't going anywhere," you might not be either, she says. And even if your manager is well-connected, he or she often can't help you if you are known only within your own department.

Failure to obtain an anticipated raise or promotion also may be a clear indication that it is time to start job hunting. "If you see that the boss is hiring someone between you and him or her, it's kind of a danger sign," says Don Sutaria, president of CareerQuest, a Union, N.J., career-counseling firm.

In some cases, a power shift or other change at a company can close off suddenly an avenue you planned to pursue. Sarah Nelson resigned as a marketing director with a large accounting firm in July 2001 because a restructuring and subsequent shift of responsibilities among partners put her own career plans on hold for six months.

"My signal was the high degree of chaos in our practice group," says Ms. Nelson, who after a brief stint at another firm is searching for a new marketing position.

But not all warning signs can be attributed to external circumstances, experts say. Often people have outgrown the challenges of a particular position, no longer feel that their values are aligned with an industry or they find they can't express themselves fully in  their job. "A job can be a dead end even when you're successful," says Judith Gerberg, a New York career counselor.

Many career coaches suggest it isn't such a bad thing to hit a career wall. On the whole, they recommend a period of dedicated self-evaluation before you decide on your next move. Meanwhile, work your hardest to keep your current job secure. Ms. Gerberg recommends learning whatever you can from your present work environment while making small changes in your life to regain the momentum required for a job switch. "You have to go into training as if you were getting ready for a big sports event," she says.
 


Time for a Detour?


Some questions to ask to figure out if you're at a dead-end job:


Are you getting good assignments? Often the best assignments are in growth areas for your company.


Is the next move in your career foreseeable? If it's not, then maybe there isn't a next move.


Do you have a potential replacement for your position? If there's no one trained to take over your position the company may not let you move on.


Is your company successful? If your company isn't going anywhere, you might not be either.


Do you get along well with your boss? Chances are, if you don't like your boss, your boss probably doesn't like you.


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