How to Tell If You’re in a Dead-End Job

Earlier this week, my guest Lena Aburdene Derhally and I talked in Episode 20 all about how to avoid toxic workplaces, a hugely important topic that I feel so strongly about. But your workplace doesn’t have to be all that bad to justify thinking about your next move.

If you’re looking for growth and progress in your career, you’ve got to be able to identify when you’ve plateaued at any particular workplace. It’s not always easy to tell when you’re in a dead-end job – especially if you’re fairly happy with your colleagues and compensation.  

But when ambition isn’t nurtured, it’s easy to lose altogether.

Now that’s not to say you always have to be driving forward in your career – I’m a big believer in the value of a bridge job when you need it: a job to just tide you over, pay the bills, and keep the lights on when you’re focusing on other aspects of your life like your health, family, or just having more fun.

But if you are striving for that next level in your career, here are 3 ways to tell when that next level isn’t gonna come from your current workplace:

Sign #1: When your boss has a very narrow understanding of your value and skill set

My friend L, a technology consultant, recently transitioned into a new role at a new company and earned herself a whopping 42% salary increase along the way – YAH, boss!

But she wasn’t all that unhappy at her prior job. They had, after all, given her the chance to start consulting for the first time ever in her career. She’d been given different, challenging projects to work on and grew a ton by being thrown into the deep end at the very start of her tenure. L thrived in that challenging, fast-paced environment. But after a few years it became clear that upper management only really wanted her to focus on one particular skillset: client-facing consulting. L wanted to move up in the ranks and worked diligently with her supervisor to make sure she was on track for a promotion. But come year-end reviews in her third year working there, despite her manager’s strong endorsement, the promotion never materialized and she was told it was due to budgetary constraints. It turns out, her employer really liked L’s work right in her current role and didn’t want to lose that talent by moving her up the pipeline. They were only really interested in the narrow set of skills she had already been bringing to the table, not providing the opportunity for future growth.

As a business owner myself, I completely understand how this can sometimes happen. The immediate needs and interests of the employer don’t always align perfectly with the needs and interests of the employee, and you’ve got to be willing to see that for what it is, and make your plan to move on without taking it personally.

Another key sign? Your manager can’t articulate a clear path for your growth

Now in L’s case, her direct manager was doing all they could to help her land that promotion, and it still didn’t work out at that company. So if your boss can’t work with you to paint a clear picture of how you can grow, what the next step might look like and how you can work up to it, that’s also a sign you might be at a dead end.

Now this doesn’t mean you should walk into your boss’s office 3 months after starting to ask about a promotion. But it does mean that during the hiring process, annual reviews, and even more regular check-in meetings about your role and responsibilities, you should be listening attentively and asking about the growing needs of the organization and how your role could expand to help meet those needs.

In today’s workforce, managers who can’t clearly lay out a path for employee advancement aren’t going to be able to keep those employees around for more than a few years.

And finally, another sign to look out for is even if you could imagine a promotion at this company, and your manager can articulate that to you: it doesn’t interest you.

Maybe you don’t want to manage a team. Or perhaps you’re not interested in all the work travel that comes with the promotions your company offers. It’s okay to acknowledge that what others in your office aspire to doesn’t look like your ambition.

But if you are craving something new at work, a growth opportunity or way to stretch yourself beyond what you’ve been doing, and the promotions available to those in your company don’t get you excited, it’s time to start exploring your options elsewhere.  

Does this sound like you? Or have you ever used these key indicators to realize you were at a dead-end job and needed to make a change? I want to hear about it!

Share your experience in the comments section below, or in the Bossed Up Courage Community on Facebook. And if you’re ready to identify your next boss move and leave with an action plan for making it happen, consider joining me at Bossed Up Bootcamp, our flagship weekend-long training program for women navigating career transition. Our next one is coming up soon in Chicago on June 16 and 17. Learn more and register before we sell out at



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