Our ability to adjust to just about any situation is both our superpower…and our curse. The same quality that enables you to take on incredible challenges well past your comfort zone (and win) is also the seductive voice at the end of each workday which keeps whispering, “Put it off. It’s not so bad. Things will get better eventually.” This is the slippery slope which can transform a once-promising career into a tailspin. And whenever you’re in a career tailspin, cold ground is ALWAYS a lot closer than you think.
So let’s stop it, together. Let’s tap into our ability to be EXCEPTIONAL and stop this downward spiral in its tracks. Are you ready?
3 Causes & Solutions for Career Tailspin
Career Tailspin Culprit #1: You’re Being Blocked.
This is one of the most common reasons why people will work with a career coach like me to quickly ramp up a job search- their path for internal growth at a company is being BLOCKED by someone directly ahead (usually a boss) who has no plans to retire, change industries, or otherwise get out of the way. In this situation it’s tempting to place your head in the sand and keep plugging away- something’s got to change eventually, right? And in the meantime, your resentment towards this person grows. Maybe, over time, this resentment will even get bad enough to negatively impact your performance. And what will your odds of an internal promotion look like then?
Solution: Create Your Own “Sunset Clause”- and stick to it no matter what.
Look, the real problem here isn’t the person doing the blocking — it’s a company that is either growing too slowly, or has such a rigid promotional scheme in place that continuing to work there means sacrificing your long-term career prospects. Make no mistake about it: spend long enough holding down the same job title and you will ABSOLUTELY be pigeonholed as someone who can only operate at that level. Unacceptable.
Also read: The Cost of Settling in Your Career
So set a firm deadline or “sunset clause” on how much longer you’re willing to make this sacrifice. Let’s say you set a timeframe for 12 months. Within those 12 months you should AGGRESSIVELY ramp up a job search. Keep your boss apprised of the broad strokes, but don’t go into details until you’re ready to accept a new offer. At that point, have an honest discussion about what would be necessary to keep you on at the company (assuming you even wish to stay at that point). If they say no, great. Move onto better things. And if they say yes, realize that it was your efforts to advocate for yourself which caused them to bend. Either way you have permanently changed the situation.
Career Tailspin Culprit #2: You Got Lost Down the “Well-Rounded” Rabbit Hole.
The myth of reaching the executive suite by “rounding yourself out” continues to persist…despite all evidence to the contrary! Imagine this: you enter the tech sector and quickly establish yourself as a leader in Product Management. Rather than using that expertise as the spearhead to launch yourself to a higher level, you decide to take a detour into hard-line Operations Management or Business Development, because you’ve heard that having this kind of experience will help you.
That crucial competitive edge you were developing in Product Management disappears, and what you’re left with is a career that’s stalled out because it has a lot of everything, but no SINGULAR VALUE in anything. That’s a bad place to be.
Solution: Narrow Your Career Focus Down to a Single Point.
What are you strongest in? Put another way- what do you do that you’re INSTANTLY CREDIBLE in? Re-aligning with this is your #1 priority- not your current job, not your “long-term career prospects” but this, right now.
Hop over to LinkedIn and check out the profiles of people who have jobs that fall within this single area of focus. Write them down. Save the profiles for future reference.
Next, revise your career platform, by which I mean your Resume, LinkedIn, and Interview Strategy, to HINGE on this single point above all else. Forget about trying to be creative or well-rounded- we’ve been down that rabbit hole before! Instead, hammer home your credibility here, highlight it through core stories and accomplishments, and treat everything else in your career as interesting BACKGROUND information.
Finally, reach out to the competitors on your list (as well those in your immediate network who fit the bill) and ask questions about how they opened doors for themselves? Can they give you an introduction to the hiring manager at a particular company? Are they in tight with the CEO at DREAM COMPANY X? Share your story and unique perspective with people who have the power to either CREATE a role for you, or are at most 1 STEP AWAY from being able to do so.
And remember: you can’t get great at anything if you’re chasing everything. Singularity of purpose and vision will beat out a Renaissance Man every day of the week.
Career Tailspin Culprit #3: You’re Habitually Underperforming.
This one’s the hardest to hear. But the truth is, in many cases the reason a person’s career isn’t moving forward is because they’re caught somewhere between horrendous and outstanding performance-wise. The horrendous get weeded out. The outstanding get promoted. So where does that leave you?
Stay invisible long enough and a gentle downwards slope becomes a full-out tailspin.
Solution: Realign with your strengths.
Sit down and honestly ask yourself: am I doing work that’s in-line with what fulfills me? No one loves what they do 100% of the time- but what’s your ratio? If you’re doing what you consider meaningful work over 50% of the time, you can build and develop on that. But if the real answer is 10% fulfillment, it’s easier to start over than try to salvage the situation.
Assuming you have an acceptable baseline of fulfillment, it’s time to shatter the invisible box. Volunteer to support initiatives in different departments. Make it clear to your boss that you’re ready, willing, and able to take on more (do you have any idea how RARE this is?). Join a non-profit you care about and do work that taps into your skills (for example, if you work in Business Development and Sales and help NON-PROFIT X execute a successful fundraising campaign, that’s something you can utilize in your resume).
I’m not going to sugarcoat it: it’s going to be painful leaving the safety of invisibility behind. But if you’re reading this and actively striving to improve yourself, that is not the place for you.