Turning a career rut into a stepping stone

Posted in Careers, Mentor Minute

Turning a career rut into a stepping stone

The Globe and Mail, Dec. 30 2011

The question

I am stuck in career rut. I am a recent university graduate and I have left a job in operations for a plumbing wholesale company which I enjoyed very much. I worked as junior project manager and I was involved in many company projects and acquisitions. I loved this job but there were things that forced me to leave. I had been hired as an administrative assistant and then promoted to project manager, but I could not get rid of my administrative duties. Thus, I had worked tons of overtime doing both jobs at the same time. Moreover, I also began seeing someone at work and we are to get married. No one in the office knew of our relationship but it was only a matter of time. So I decided to look somewhere else.

I now have a job as a regional wealth management co-ordinator at a major bank. Going into the interview, I was under the assumption that I would be in support role and working on special projects for my region. However, that is not the case, I am more of an office administrator, not working on any projects or any support. I dread going to work every day and it’s a struggle to get out of bed, which is weird for me since I am a morning person. Also, there is absolutely no work to do. I come in every day and read the newspaper, make my coffee, take a couple of walks. I do nothing all day! It is driving me crazy.

I’m unsure what to do. I have only been with the bank for two months, but I’m finding myself depressed. I can’t go back to my old job because my fiancé works there and I can’t find a new one similar to that because I lack experience. Am I stuck? Please say no! What are my options? I have a BA in political science and I went back to get a project management certificate. I am so confused.

The answer

“Stuck in a rut” sums up so many of the questions we’ve had lately. As only Dr. Seuss could say it so well in the book Oh, the Places you’ll go:

You’ll come down from the Lurch

With an unpleasant bump.

And chances are, then,

That you’ll be in a Slump.

And when you’re in a Slump,

You’re not in for much fun.

Un-slumping yourself

Is not easily done.

The book goes on to say that life has its up and downs, highs and lows, but the bottom line is don’t convince yourself that it will be this way for the rest of your life. All you have to do is get on with things, and the next move is around the corner.

Obviously, you have the strength to make a change – you’ve just done it two months ago – so get out of your own way and get on with it. No, you are not destined to stay stuck in a rut of boredom. By the sounds of it, you are young and just starting out in life, so the world is your oyster. You have a degree, you have a certificate in project management, you’re about to get married. Now it’s just time to pause and figure out what you really want to do.

First question you should ask is can you be happy in your current workplace? Sometimes, it can be better and easier to fix what you’ve got than to find something new. If they gave you the work you wanted in your current job, is this a place you could be happy? Have you sought more work? Have you told your manager that you have time on your hands? Have you told them the kind of work you’d like to be doing and are capable of? Can you look around and see the opportunities that exist? Have you gone after them? Start by being proactive before you do anything else.

If that gets you nowhere, or if in your gut you really “know” that you have to get out of there, consider the time you have on your hands a bit of a gift. Not that I advocate wasting company time, but if you are not being given enough to do, make sure your time is productive. If you were able to find a new job when you were crazy busy, you should be able to find the “right” job while you have the time to really pause, think it through, and then take action.

First off, what kind of a job do you want? Do you want a project management job? Did you like what you learned and can see yourself thriving in a role like that? When you were taking the certificate, did you know that this was right for you?

If yes, then you want to ask yourself, what industry do you want to do project management in? The opportunities for project management exist in so many industries I can’t begin to count: From marketing to construction; from telecommunications to interior design; from technology to fashion; from the music industry to banking … project management exists everywhere. The question is, which industry is right for you?

I remember when I was in business school, one of the profs kept encouraging us to decide what industry we were interested in, even more so than what area of business we were interested in. At first I really didn’t understand what he meant, but he went on to explain: Out of our graduating class, half of us might be interested in finance. (Just as an FYI, I was not one them.) You can take that finance interest and work in a bank, or a corporate finance company, or an accounting firm, and you can take that finance knowledge and go work for your favourite company in your favourite industry, such as Lululemon, Starbucks, Microsoft, or in partnership with your best friend starting a small business. They are all great paths – you just have to find the one that speaks to you. It’s where you apply that knowledge that will mean the difference between boredom and excitement.

Katie Bennett is principal of Double Black Diamond Coaching in Vancouver.