We are happiest at work when we feel inspired, have a sense of purpose, and experience chances for career advancement.
It’s something we all want. A survey by Robert Half Technology found that advancement opportunities and the ability to grow and learn were among the top benefits tech employees want in a job. “If you aren’t finding any of these in your career, you may feel like you’re at a standstill,” said Ryan Sutton, district president for Robert Half Technology, New York and New England markets.
What are some warning signs that your career is in a rut?
- You don’t see any clear or varied career paths in your department.
- Your skills aren’t being used to their full potential.
- You dread going to work every day.
- You find your assignments boring and unengaging.
- Your hard work isn’t acknowledged by your boss or colleagues.
- You haven’t received a raise in the last year.
“If you also start having thoughts that you can do your manager’s job, it’s a major sign that you have to do something about it,” says Robbie Abed, author of “Fire Me I Beg You.”
But what if you are the manager or the boss? Feeling stalled can be especially challenging for IT leaders, who are expected to drive innovation for their companies. Martha Heller, CEO of Heller Search Associates, who specializes in recruiting CIOs and other technology leaders, describes how being stalled can sideline IT leaders, and keep them from reaching the innovation goals that are critical to their job. She shares some red flags for IT leaders:
“You are in maintenance mode and cannot generate funding for investing in new technologies,” says Heller. “The business does not invite you to key strategic meetings. Your executive committee (EC) refuses to fund infrastructure modernization efforts, and does not buy your ROI analysis. Or you’re on the CIO’s succession plan, but the EC has ignored that plan and gone to the external market for your new boss.”
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These are all warning signs that your ability to make a meaningful impact is limited in your current job – and you need to do something about it. If any of these signs ring true for you, consider these tips that can help you get back on a path of forward momentum in your career. Explore these strategies:
1. Ask for help
“Get a mentor – perhaps a seasoned CIO from outside your company or a business leader within your company,” suggests Heller. “Have a frank conversation with your boss about your interests in taking on more responsibility, and listen carefully to the feedback you receive.”
2. Expand and refresh your network
“The best way to get out of a rut is to start taking coffee meetings with other people in your industry,” says Abed. “It’s important to get other people’s thoughts on your career path and get an external point of view on what you can do next.”
3. Learn what motivates you
“If you dread going to work, you will not be motivated to do good work,” says Dr. Larry Pfaff, executive coach, Pfaff and Associates. “You need to determine what it will take to get you excited about doing your job, then adapt or find a better fit.” A career coach can help you analyze what motivates and drives you, and then help you decide what your next steps should be, says Pfaff.
4. Advance your career through education
Learning new skills can be a great way to reconnect with what inspired you about IT in the first place. It can also position you for more executive roles. “If you are a great technologist who struggles with finance and other business disciplines, get the education (and the networks) that will get you to the next level,” says Heller.
5. Explore small changes, too
Finding greater happiness at work may just require some small tweaks, says Sutton, “like shifting your hours for better work-life balance or asking for a project that could bring new challenges. They could also be more significant, like asking for a promotion or raise or moving to a different department. Start by talking to your manager about your concerns and see what they can do to help you. And if you can’t find a new, appealing option with your current employer, it may be time to begin looking elsewhere.”\
6. Leave your comfort zone
Jonathan Feldman, CIO of Asheville, NC, says sometimes people are just not honest with themselves about their willingness to rise to challenges. “How closely do you want to follow your boss’s advice?” Feldman asks. “If your boss sits you down and says ‘You need to do 1, 2, and 3 to advance,’ are you listening? The people I promote listen, internalize, and they own it.” To get there, Feldman says, “Ask clarifying questions about the steps you need to take, then take initiative. You have to go beyond your comfort zone into the unknown.”
7. Know when it’s them, not you
For innovation-minded IT leaders, your biggest limiting factor in your stalled job could be old-school thinking. “Sometimes your IT career is stalled because your company is afraid of change, no matter how much of a change leader you actually are,” says Heller.Sutton adds, “If you do decide to look for a new opportunity, aim to find an organization that cares about your professional development and helps you succeed. You’ll likely be happier at a company that gives you challenging and engaging work, supports work-life balance, and recognizes your accomplishments with attractive compensation and benefits.