Underused skills – reasons, consequences and solutions

Mingling within HR circles, there’s a lot of commotion about underused skills in the UK workforce at the moment. A report from the CIPD has found that nearly half of us are completely mismatched in our roles which means we are more likely to leave our jobs and less likely to be promoted.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – in the grand scheme of things, we have people leaving roles to better use their skills, and by doing so leaving their now-vacant role for someone who will be more suited and satisfied to fulfil it.

Essentially, one of the main reasons this happens in the first place though is down to job design; whether the role was designed at the point of application (and the employee applied for the wrong reasons or elements of the role weren’t evident up front) or after a natural period of time, the role evolved into something else in response to the organisation’s goals or industry changes.

As avid doers, we may find ourselves in this situation at some point or other in our careers (or multiple points, sadly). Self-initiating change within our roles – and indeed our lives – is something we do to remedy job lolls and where there’s restriction to change and a large portion of our skills aren’t being used, this can be incredibly frustrating.

With frustration, comes disengagement, lack of motivation and a sense of resentment. We may forget the fact that change is our responsibility and instead place the blame elsewhere (mostly our employer) which just breeds more negativity.

So what can you do (after of course you talked it out with your manager)? Multipotentialite leader Emilie Wapnick calls the first suggested solution as The Einstein Approach which means you have a day job unrelated to your hobbies or interests and so allows you to have the mental/creative/physical/etc. stamina to work on your true skills and talents outside of work. I’ve written about this before in my article about not having one true calling, ultimately finding outlets for all your interests without relying on your day job to fulfil these entirely. Who knows – these can end up being the foundation of a bigger and better career that supplements your skills developed in your day job.

Or over at Corporate Rebels – the awesome rebels who are challenging how things work in the corporate world – they much prefer the concept of ‘job crafting’. While they write about it from an employer’s perspective, my take-away from this is that there may be some wiggle room in your role to influence it to go into a certain direction to further use those untapped skills of yours. This will benefit you, your team and your organisation by being happier, more productive and engaged, and using skills that improve the team’s spectrum of abilities. The Corporate Rebels go on to quote Wrzesniewski and Dutton (2001) who say that job crafting is a:

“self-initiated change behaviour that employees engage in with the aim to align their jobs with their preferences, motives, and passions”

Pretty good huh? No new role, you get to stay where you are AND be happier!

But then of course you do have the option to look for a new role that uses your skills better if Einsteining or job-crafting aren’t possible. Looking elsewhere would be the best option for those who feel they aren’t performing their best in their current role – you might just not have the right opportunity to perform the great skills you have rather than being a poor performer. Think about that possibility the next time you give yourself a hard time at being pants at your job.

Skills transference is a big theme with The Avid Doer blog, so surprise! The option of getting a new and better job also allows you to transfer skills that are both used and unused to combine together in an innovative and unique way, one that will provide a lot more job satisfaction and fulfilment (and set you apart in the application process).

So while the employers are doing what they can to address this workforce issue, there are ways or us to address it to.

Do you feel your skills are underused in your day role? Are there any of these solutions that stands out to you the most?

Writing about contemporary art

I have a book of Gilda Williams’ (correspondent for Artforum and lecturer at Goldsmiths College and Sotheby’s Institute of Art) called “How to write about contemporary art”.

I bought this during my art days before my umpteenth career change, but have rediscovered its relevance to my career now, not just in my writing, but in HR as well.

It promises (and delivers) a helpful, no-nonsense approach to structuring written pieces, avoiding common pitfalls, developing concrete research and close thinking, and positioning language effectively. It’s incredibly helpful for those who need to articulate their internal chatter concisely and accurately, and generally be a better communicator.

It never ceases to surprise me how often skills and supposedly-niche advice can transfer into other sectors, other roles, and complementing other skills.

Thinking back to your previous careers or fields, do you still find relevance for ‘specialist’ guidance?

The importance of good customer service in HR

My first customer service role was at the age of 16 at a local shop/petrol station, and I quickly learned about the multi-characteristic nature of the customer demographic. I then started to work with customers over the phone in another company where I discovered a new set of characteristics to add to this customer scope. Then I started waiting on tables which broadened the demographic even further to unexpected heights (those in catering know what I’m talking about)!

All in all, I began to see all types of personalities the world has to offer. Some were a delight to serve, some not so. Some were easy to deal with, some not so. Some taught me patience, and did not so.

To me, the customer demographic is a snapshot of the broad spectrum of personalities, and in my opinion, dealing with customers early on in a career develops important people skills that HR professionals can take with them throughout their careers.

The majority of us work with people who come with their own personality (or personalities) and dealing with some of them in a professional capacity can be a struggle, even under the implied constraints of workplace etiquette.

Customers are not obliged to adhere to, or behave under the scope of HR policies, company etiquette, or even social expectation. Indeed, they can throw at you whatever personality they want and there is nothing you can do about it other than react with complete and utter servitude and diplomacy in order to resolve the situation on your toes.

Typically, HR rarely deals with ‘customers’. Those who we provide advice to are ‘colleagues’ – staff, managers, business managers, senior leaders – but at times it can be difficult to handle situations with objectivity and diplomacy as you would with a customer.

So why are good customer service skills important in HR? Here are just five out many skills that are important in both settings:

  1. Co-operation

Using good customer service skills encourages co-operation. Rather than a position of servitude, we must be able to co-operate with our colleagues for the best outcome, one which has the least negative impact by personality negotiation.

Defusing situations before tensions rise is a key skill in both customer service and dealing with colleagues, and by understanding the same principles of the server-customer relationship, we can aim to co-operate better.

  1. Respect

We each deserve respect, and in my opinion, good customer service is demonstrated when a customer is shown respect even when they themselves are being disrespectful. This shows a huge amount of integrity.

Showing respect for teams and colleagues means that you maintain professionalism even under extreme confrontations, and will find it quicker and easier to reach diplomatic resolutions. It also demonstrates general good character which is a trait that will help you organically progress in your career anyway.

  1. Listening

A good skill in general, listening – or more specifically, active listening – in customer service means you provide the customer ample opportunity to voice their objections and opinions in whichever way they feel is more productive (even when it isn’t).

Even when they’re screaming and shouting, actively listening to this in a responsive, rather than a defensive way, means you’re assessing the emotion and frustration from their vent, thus understanding the impact a situation has on them.

Hearing what is being said, and the undertones not said, you are then much more likely to be able to identify the root of the problem they have experienced. This can be applied when dealing with a frustrated or upset manager for example and use other skills as a HR professional to provide solutions to their problem.

Even if solutions cannot be found, or at least not in the manager’s favour, actively listening will assure the manager that you have taken the time to understand the issue to give the tailored solution.

  1. Process improvement

As a follow-up from the point on listening, working with customers and listening to their problems provides you first-hand opportunities to identify process flaws or gaps.

You’re at the firing line of the negative impact these gaps have on the customers, and by providing them with solutions to resolve the situation, you are in the position to address these gaps on a more permanent basis by suggesting longer-term process improvements.

In the HR environment, dealing with colleagues and other stakeholders, you act as the fixer between company’s goals and weaknesses via its people. You are in the position of having the business acumen and people skills of an HR professional, and applying these to the day-to-day issues managers and employees experience.

Process improvement is just one step for bigger successes HR can facilitate, for example improvements on culture, employer branding and the employee value proposition.

  1. Going the extra mile

Customer service roles can sometimes be incredibly satisfying, especially if you’re the sort of person who likes applying discretionary effort to helping customers.

When applying the effort on the frontline, appreciation and gratitude is (mostly) expressed immediately, and the satisfying feeling it gives you makes you want to do it again.

Applying this in HR gets the same results (if you work in that sort of company of course). Just like coming up with discretionary and one-off solutions for customers in exceptional circumstances, HR provides enough opportunities to provide the same for colleagues and stakeholders without expectation of reward or special treatment.

It begins to teach you a great sense of occupational pride, knowing that you have sometimes the capacity to go that extra mile in order for big results to have a positive impact.

So by treating those to which we provide advice as customers, we carry that mind set of pleasing the customer through the things we do at work.

The company’s customers

As an aside, HR does in fact have distant dealings with customers in that whatever we do in our daily role(s) ultimately has a knock-on effect on the customer or end user.

We guide and support managers to deal with staff who are essentially the face of the company to its customers. How this employee is managed and supported by their manager is determined by the support we can give in order for the customer to receive good service.

The benefit of understanding this, and the skills and aptitude needed for good customer service, is that we can better place ourselves in frontline staff’s shoes.

We can begin to empathise with what can be a challenging role, considering, as mentioned, there are very few restraints within which customers should conduct themselves, other than the prohibition of expletives and violence.

The stress that comes with is can be excruciating, and as HR professionals we must be conscious of this fact and factor it into our advice and strategies.

The benefit of understanding the importance of the skills needed for good customer service means we can also work better in the business with our colleagues and stakeholders in general.

Adopting a customer-pleasing approach in the things that we do ensures we go about our work with pride, respect and understanding.

If you are currently in a customer service role and aspire to become an HR professional, I hope this has demonstrated the close link between the two and encourages you to emphasise these great skills to bag your first role.

If you work in a call-centre and you want to move away from that environment, check out this article I wrote on the host of other skills you can transfer away from a call-centre environment that you might not have realised.

 

Too many interests to choose a career?

Have you ever found it hard to choose a career because you just have so many interests? Or you’re frightened that you’ve gone from obsessive hobby to the next, you’re hesitant to commit to a single interest in case next month you would have moved onto something else? Have people often commented that you have an eclectic set of skills and ‘there’s no end to your talents’?

This can be frustrating for the fellow avid doer. We have the energy to devote our efforts into something that will build a flourishing career, but with so many interests, most seemingly completely unrelated, choosing one proves difficult. Moreover, the fear of choosing the wrong one is just as bad.

I spoke about how there is no perfect career for everyone in my last post so it’s important to remember that there is no right way about finding job satisfaction, or in other words, there will never be a perfect solution as it doesn’t exist so therefore mustn’t be ventured for.

So this should give you more room to play with your multiple interests, the number of potential jobs out there that will satisfy you.

Multipotentialites

What better way to begin than to explore the concept of Multipotentialites. For those who aren’t familiar, this is a term and way of thinking developed by Emilie Wapnick who founded the website Puttylike. The ‘Start here’ page, for obvious reasons, is a really good starting point for people with many interests to explore.

Multipotentialites, Emilie explains, are people with multiple interests and creative pursuits. They have no chosen career but instead like to explore as many of their interests as they please. They are also known to learn a new skill or interest, become obsessive about it (it literally takes over their life) and then some time later (a week, a month, a year…) the interest is no longer interesting and they move onto a new creative pursuit.

Now without knowing this concept and the basis that this sort of behaviour is OK, a lot of closeted Multipotentialites will be beating themselves up for flitting from one interest to the next, frustrating not just themselves, but family and friends around them who can’t keep up.

Knowing this inspiring concept has made my transitions from one interest to the next incredibly natural and guilt-free, so I thoroughly recommend hopping over to the website…after you’ve carried on reading this of course.

Indulging in multiple interests

There seems to be an apprehension for indulging your multiple interests especially when you’re determined to focus on your career, but by denying yourself to do this, and explore even more potential interests, you’re not honing the particular set of skills that are wholly unique to you.

Only you have the specific level of competence in a specific combination or related and unrelated skills and hobbies.

Your personal formula

I believe your personal set of skills and competence, or your personal ‘formula’, is the very thing that separates you from the rest when it comes to choosing, perfecting and advancing your career. I talk a lot about transferable skills, so it won’t come as a surprise to you if I said that transferable skills from each of your interests could have a place in devising the career that is uniquely you, plays to your strengths, your weaknesses, your interests, your motivation, your reason to get up in the morning…all of these things that help people love their jobs and in turn progress professionally. This unique formula is one element that creates job satisfaction.

To put it into context, Bob (fictitious) dawdles between a number of jobs that tickles his multiple interests that are seemingly unrelated. He had a try at accountancy, music engineering, law, decoupage, and internal communications. Some might think that Bob is fickle and that he just goes from one job to the next that caters to his multiple interests but doesn’t really help him build a solid foundation on which a fulfilling and progressive career can be built upon.

Sure, Bob is a bit lost and can’t seem to get an ‘A-ha!’ moment where he’s truly found job satisfaction.

But the thing about Bob is, he’s been creating his personal formula. It might be a hodgepodge of skills but come the time he knows what he wants in life, what he wants out of a career, and how to indulge in all of his interests, he has a unique formula that could give him a competitive edge at an interview.

Bob’s formula has profiled him as:

  • Accurate with numbers
  • Attention to detail
  • Creative and capable of thinking outside the box
  • Highly computer literate
  • Intelligent
  • Willing to learn new skills
  • A strong communicator
  • A strong collaborator
  • Eager
  • Not afraid to go for what he wants

Hopefully Bob will figure out what he wants to do with his career, and when he does, he can add qualifications to the formula he has already developed. There might come a time when his certain elements from his formula combine to make him a super-suitable candidate for the job that has seemingly been made for him.

Having multiple interests does not mean you have to pick your favourite and run with it, neglecting the others.

On the contrary, if you have a blatant favourite and you really want to take that off, then that is absolutely fine, but keep a finger on your other interests, even at pastime or hobby level. This helps keep your formula up to speed and keeps it unique. It also means you get more satisfaction out of life in general.

By doing something you enjoy in your spare time, it helps you separate work from home life, the mental or physical muscles you use at work and the ones you use at home. ‘Variety is the spice of life’ they say.

This reflects the danger of falling into the misconception that making money out of each and every interest leads to job satisfaction, or ‘following your bliss’. It’s important to remember that if you happen to enjoy doing something for free, there is no automatic assumption you’ll enjoy doing it for money. For example, as a foodie, I absolutely love to cook, but I couldn’t do it as a job. It’s something I do to unwind from work, an enjoyable hobby that doesn’t have any professional pressure.

I took this same approach when I realised I wanted to start a blog about career development. I’m an HR professional and love all things HR. I could’ve easily started an HR blog but I chose specifically career development because, as well as wanting to help people like me progress professionally, it’s also something I’m really interested in.

So while I develop my skills as an HR professional at work and through CPD (continuous professional development) I get to develop my skills as a blogger and sort of career coach-y person (is that what I am?), on top of the other interests I have. I’ve since gone on to find many elements of HR and career management overlap and one feeds into the other. Even if they didn’t overlap, indulging in my multiple facets that make me me, means I’m forever strengthening my unique formula.

But is there a way of making money from a number of your interests?

Portfolio career

Portfolio careers are essentially working a number of part-time roles, usually 2 or 3 at a time. Not only can this way of working mean you will never have a monotonous week, or ever have to choose one career aspiration to follow, it’s also considered to be a safer way of working in terms of job security. You lose a job? That’s fine, you have two others to fall back on.

Portfolio careers are a better way of networking than if you remained in one job, especially if each of the jobs were in different fields. Just think of what this social asset does to your personal formula!

It does have its pitfalls though, for example making sure schedules are synchronised and switching from one working culture to another all the time can be confusing, but it is an option to consider, a popular one at that.

So please do not worry if you have so many interests that they’re confusing you to the point of frustrated inertia. It’s such a good thing having so many interests and experiences, and it’s a case of deciding how to use these to build a career, and life in general, in the way that suits you.

This is the second of a 5 part series of posts on discovering how to find job satisfaction. Next week, I will be talking about how working cultures can help you in your quest, and the signs to look out for.

 

 

 

When work won’t pay for training

As avid doers, we love a good course: a structured and linear progression towards a shiny new qualification (and even a shinier post-nominal) which gives us more competence and confidence in a particular topic, and which will lead to promotions, your own executive office and world domination.

Just one snag – work won’t pay for it. It might be development that you can bring back into your job (even at a push, I’m sure the principles behind crochet can be applied to the corporate world) but for one reason or another, work are unable to fund it.

Perfect. By the way, if there was a grammatical way to type a word that doesn’t sound sarcastic, I could have done with it there. It really is a blessing in disguise that work won’t pay for training or a course, or in other words, that you have to fund it yourself. If you have your heart set for a particular course, and a particular topic you want to develop, then you would be doing it one way or another anyway (if you’re as stubborn as me).

You see, funding your own course has so many benefits:

  • you get to choose how you want to take the course (online, classroom, weekends, evening)
  • you get to choose the course to complete. The topic doesn’t therefore necessarily need to relate directly (or at all) to you current role
  • you get to choose the provider. If the topic is offered from a number of course providers, you can choose the one that suits your needs, budget, membership benefits and general preference.
  • you have no obligation to finish the course if it’s a load of pants (I’d strongly recommend you finish it anyway but you won’t feel obliged to do it because work are paying for it)
  • the sense of accomplishment when you complete the course feels so much stronger knowing that it was on your own steam than if you did it as part of work
  • you have no strings attached to your employer. You could leave your company the day after you completed the course without any guilt (or debt if your company has a clause that repayment needs to be made within a certain time after the course if you leave)
  • but the best benefit of funding your own training is that it shows absolute professional determination and initiative to your current, and future employers

Professional determination and initiative 

I cannot begin to tell you how good this will look to your current and future employers as it really illustrates your determination and perseverance. In interviews you get to also explain why you funded it yourself – not “oh, them there wouldn’t pay for it! Grr!” – but that you assessed your own skills and abilities, you understood what was required of you in this, and any future role, and you proactively sought to bridge that gap by taking the course by any means necessary.

It’s also important to remember that taking a course or enrolling on any sort of training doesn’t always have to improve your career prospects. This might initially sound contradicting to the whole ethos of The Avid Doer ie career progression and getting where you want to be professionally. To me though, I believe you can progress and develop yourself without necessarily having better career prospects as an end goal (new job, promotion etc.), but instead so you can progress and develop in your own role. These additional skills help boost your productivity, performance, efficiency and confidence in your current role, and really make it your own.

Unrelated qualifications

This approach also explains to employers why you underwent seemingly unrelated qualifications to the current role as it was appropriate at the time to learn that particular skill even though it wouldn’t have led to better prospects.

For example, if someone wanting to work their way up in accountancy but has a qualification in marketing, it’s still worth mentioning why they decided to train in that, which clears up any doubt of in their dedication to the field but also recognises a qualification they would have still worked hard for.

Of course you will have to be selective in which ones you decide to include, but you need to identify which skills you picked up during, and as a result of, completing the unrelated qualification are transferable to your current or prospective role.

But when it comes to your existing employer not paying for the unrelated qualification, you can still follow this process of identifying the transferable skills and how they will play a part in your existing role.

“But courses are expensive” 

I hear that. Funding your own training does, obviously and non-figuratively come at a cost. It also relies heavily on your personal and financial circumstances.

Luckily, training online, or “distance learning” keeps costs down, and most even allow students to pay for the course in installments. And most will even qualify you to be an actual student ie student card discounts!

Other qualifications also allow people to just sit the exams; the Certified Insurance Institute for example have exam areas around the UK for people to complete their tests. Before this, those sitting the exam would have just needed to buy the relevant books and studied that way, rather than just enrolling in a course. So the total cost would just be the books and the exam fee. However if you’re the sort that needs a tutor to talk you through the content or to motivate you into completing chapters etc. this self-learning approach might not suit you.

I am a huge fan of learning and development (“L&D” in the bizz) and also of distance learning, so much so that it’s worthy of its own post which I will be publishing soon. I’ll be writing about picking the right course, finding the right way of doing it, making the time and tips on self-discipline.

In the meantime look at what’s available out there; I think you’ll find they’re a lot more affordable than you realise. Of course before you commit to any financial commitment like an installment plan, you should always do your sums and seek professional financial advice if appropriate. You should also assess the amount of return on investment ie will the benefits of gaining this qualification outweigh the cost and time it will take to complete it.

If it is an expensive course, the benefits really need to be tangible to your existing role (or your career aspirations) and speaking with your manager will help eliminate the possibility that the course isn’t necessary for your existing role (which might have been the reason why they decided not to fund your course).

So that’s why all is not lost if work decide they’re not footing the bill for your course. Dare I say it’s better they’re not paying for it as by funding it yourself, you add so much weight to the qualification, demonstrating to your current and future employers that you have the get-up-and-go to learn what you need and want to learn come what may. It also demonstrates you’re not one for giving up at the first sign of resistance and instead find other ways to develop yourself.

 

Moving from a call-centre environment

This post is the first of a series that advises on moving from one working environment to another.

“I currently work in a call-centre providing quotes to customers with a bit of cross selling but I’m ready to move onto another type of role. I want to work in an office that doesn’t involve non-stop phone calls, for example administration, but due to my lack of experience I’m worried I won’t ever get away from call centres. Any suggestions?” – Bob B.

Moving from one area of work to another, regardless of the nature of each, can sometimes seem too out of reach and hard to accomplish. Working in call centres can sometimes restrict the amount of duties you have in your day-to-day role so there may seem few examples of other work for you to demonstrate to recruiters.

The first thing I would suggest is determine how long you intend staying in your current role. Having an end date in mind not only helps you focus on a deadline but it also allows you to explore what you can do between now and when you leave.

Unless you’re in a desperate situation where you need to abandon ship right now, you might need to ask yourself if you can delay your plans to move on for up to another 6 months. This is so that you can start exploring everything your current employer has to offer to you now, that you can demonstrate to your new employer, and not deny yourself on what’s on hand to you in your current role.

Existing development opportunities

For example, you might want to ask for extra responsibilities that take you away from the phones. Sitting down with your manager and explaining what you would like to try out would be a good starting point as they may be aware of any secondment opportunities, any additional tasks they can send your way or offer to set you up with some job shadowing. Be sure to remind them of the sort of extra duties you would prefer; you mention you want to move to a more administrative role, so the extra stuff you’re given needs to match any future roles. Being able to relate these extra opportunities back to your existing role, and how they can complement it will increase your chances of your manager being on board.

However, spending time off the phones in a call centre will require a pretty hefty and convincing business case and you might be fighting a losing battle. In this case, I would suggest looking to see if there are any skills you can brush up on outside of working hours that you will need in an administrative role.

Depending on the type of admin role you’re going for, you wouldn’t normally require too many academic or vocational qualifications (however, if these are likely to be required if you were looking to progress once you have the admin role, you need to let them know you’re keen to gain these at a later date if you haven’t already got them, and then follow through on your promise). You may find you will only need Microsoft Office skills which can be picked up with practice alongside a book for beginners.

A quicker option

There is another, quicker way. In a previous article, I talked about transferable skills, where you can bring your existing skills developed from your current and previous roles to a new employer or position. Figuring out what you can already do, and portraying this in the best light (without lying) to prospective employers will save you from spending more time in a role that has nothing further to offer in terms of development or satisfaction. I took these steps myself when I worked in a call centre, my first full time job as a ‘grown up’ when I was 17.

One of the first things you need to do with this approach is sit down and go over everything you do on a day-to-day basis. Then look at each of these listed duties and determine which specific set of skills they require – these are the skills you can transfer to a new role outside of a call-centre environment. You’ll be surprised at how many you have.

You really need to dissect each task you do and pull out all the skills that each individual task requires. These skills will then become the building blocks of a set of (seemingly) new abilities that can be presented in a more universal way.

Phone skills

Let me give you an example. Working in a call centre, you may list your first task as ‘answering phone calls’. So what skills do you need to answer phone calls and make sure you do it correctly, compliantly and to the satisfaction of the customer and your line manager?

Digging deep into this task, you could list a number of skills: customer service; understanding the needs of your customer by actively listening and asking the right questions; dissemination (feel free to pinch that word, it’s a good’n) of verbal information; dissemination of data should you refer to any databases to help you inform the customer of the quote; referring to and updating databases; provide solutions specific to customers’ needs; demonstrating composure and professionalism when there is a back log of calls; working timely and efficiently; able to use a number of systems simultaneously while the customer is on the phone; ensuring you are up to date with the product and keeping abreast of changes and updates.

And this is just one task that you might have thought you couldn’t relate to an admin role. This is the depth you need to go into. After you’ve listed a number of tasks you do, you would have built a number of skills that could be completely removed from a call-centre environment and placed somewhere else.

Beyond your immediate role

You will also need to include any relevant skills beyond your role. This can be a little harder to think of as they’re not so obvious. For example any relatable volunteering you do or any previous projects you’ve worked on in and out of work. As mentioned above, you can easily work on ‘extracurricular’ activities outside of work if your employer can’t offer you something you want to learn and develop.

Another range of skills beyond your immediate role which are transferable to anywhere you go is how you manage your performance. This can include: the targets you are given and how you make sure you meet them; how you keep on top of your professional development; how you help your immediate colleagues out and wider teams; how you take and use feedback.

With these components, you can go on to rebuild your CV aimed at your desired role with your re-branded set of skills. Keep your eye out for a series of articles that I will be writing on how I transferred obscure skills into the corporate world, as well as tips on writing a CV.

 

Getting out of a dead-end job

We’ve all been there; feeling stuck in a job that offers little or no prospects, no possibility of moving up the ladder, and with each day coming into work – the same smells, the same annoying sounds, the same entrance, the same, the same, the same – it feels progressively harder and tiresome. The excitement of Christmas seems like a distant memory, and while your choice of quinoa salad ‘for the new you’ will certainly not pick your spirits up, you feel nothing will.

Being in a dead end job can really take its toll on a person, especially for those who want to progress and just smash their career. Working in an organisation that can’t offer the career or job you want will make you start asking what you should do next, or you might have already considered your next move after planning your career in 2018.

To help you focus your thoughts, you could start by assessing your situation and ascertain:

  • Your wants: what you want to do – the type of job or career you want, the industry, the working culture, the lifestyle, your work/life balance
  • Your abilities: what you can do that can get you to where you want to be – the current skills you have, the attitude you possess, the experience you have developed, the ability to relocate, the flexibility in terms of working patterns, the budget to fund learning new career skills
  • Your limitations: what you can’t do that limits what you want – the skills you don’t have but would like or need, lack of flexibility to relocate due to, for example, childcare, the funds for new qualifications

This won’t be an overnight epiphany. You might find it will take a while before a clear picture forms in your head about your wants, abilities and limitations. More so if you can’t decide what career you want in the first place. It’s important to not keep these in your head either; it’s an agreed

But once you do have an understanding of this, you will consequently be presented with four options:

  1. Move on and find another job

You might come to the point where you feel that your current organisation can’t offer anything you want any more and that you should find another job. Although this option shouldn’t be taken too lightly, it might be the best solution for you if you want to develop and progress, either in your current or new field.

Looking for a new job in your current organisation should be your first port of call so to not to interrupt your years of service (you have full employee rights after 2 years’ service with your current employer), but if your employer is the problem, then your search should exclude them so you won’t be tempted to take a new job within the company and find yourself back to square one later. And if they are the problem, and it’s come to the point that it’s affecting your health, then this option could be the best one for you. No job is worth putting your health at risk.

  1. Stay put while studying

If it’s at all bearable, you could consider staying in your current role while studying a new skill or qualification, especially if the career you want requires these and you don’t have. I’m a big believer in studying on your own steam – that is studying in your own time, with your own money, under your own initiative. Studying on your own steam not only does this mean you get to study what you want to get where you need, but it demonstrates motivation to any new employers.

This option prepares you for your next career move without haste but it also justifies you staying where you are. It’s no longer a dead end job but a job that pays the bills while you study. Having chosen this option before, I can say that this does really change your attitude of the job you want to leave and makes the wait that bit more bearable.

  1. Stay put while working on a side hustle

When thinking about what you want to do, you might have concluded that you want to start your own business, either as an eventual full-time venture, or alongside your ‘bread-and-butter’ job. If it’s a full time thing you’re after, this option is similar to option 2, where you’re making the job more justified as it pays the bills while working on setting up your own business. It provides financial security while you get the business off the ground, and acts as stabilisers until the business is ready to generate sustainable income.

If you want the side hustle alongside the ‘bread-and-butter’ job then again it justifies you being in the dead end job. Some people find that being in a dead end job means they can reserve their energy to their side hustle, whether it’s for extra income, as a creative outlet, or just for fun and not-for-profit. Having a number of roles is what’s termed as a ‘portfolio career’ and it has been predicted that this way of working will become more and more popular as people find multiple avenues to use the full spectrum of their skills. Although the entrepreneurial route isn’t one I want to take, it is something I have explored in the past and continue to be fascinated with the idea and community, so I will write posts about entrepreneurialism and portfolio careers at a later date.

  1. Stay put and reassess your situation

If you’re not in the position to find a new role or take up new skills, whichever reasons these may be, you should speak with your line manager. Even if you have spoken to them before, by talking to them again and explaining how you have assessed your wants, abilities and limitations, it takes the conversation into a new and more productive direction.

Your line manager might not be in a position to offer many opportunities to you but it is their responsibility to talk to you about the options already available to you like reshaping your role, taking on more responsibility, or giving you new tasks – anything to adjust your routine.

Reassessing how your work is given to you or the tasks you do can help you find ways of coping with your job. Reassessing how you react to your job will also help, focussing your mind on the positives rather than just the negatives. I know of the least likely of people to get into positive mantras who have gone on to use them to cope with their dead end job with great success. Finding mantras that you like and storing these on your phone make a very handy pick-me-up when the day gets trying.

Speaking about your job in a way that puts you (and others around you!) down in the dumps doesn’t improve your situation – if anything it makes it a lot worse – and if by ascertaining that the best option for you at the moment is to stay where you are, then you can only control how you respond to this, be it using mantras, developing your emotional intelligence or becoming more resilient.

Easier said than done? Yes. But there is truth in it and worth giving it a go. You owe it to your mental and physical health to find ways of coping with a job you’re unhappy with if you genuinely feel there’s no way out. Just promise yourself that you won’t become complacent with the notion that there isn’t a way out – make a point of going through these steps again after a couple of months and you might find an idea that was hiding on you the first time round.

I hope this have provided you with some clarity on the options open to you. It’s important to really figure out what you want in a career before working through the four options. If you’re unfortunate enough to not know what you want to do, there will be a post or two about this in the coming weeks (Update: I’ve now written a post on a secret to finding your perfect career here). I use the term ‘unfortunate’ not in a derogatory way, but with total empathy as I was in this boat for far too long before learning what I wanted to do in my career.

 

Job title or duties: which is more important?

I am at a crossroads. In one direction, I’ve been offered a job that I know I can do and looks to be interesting, and although it’s in a new tangent to my chosen career that I’m happy to explore, the title of the role is quite generic and sounds entry-level. In the other direction, I can stick in my current role that really isn’t interesting at all, but it’s in my chosen career with an associated and profession-specific title that could help me progress later up the ladder, but it’s not guaranteed. I’m not sure what I should do.”

All is not lost. By stepping back and weighing up your options in a deeper level than you have described, you can make an informed decision that you won’t later regret. Although you can more than likely recover from a potential wrong decision, this causes delays in your career which nobody likes.

At face value, it’s easy to conclude that what you do on a day-to-day basis at work is crucial to your health and wellbeing. As such, it’s correct to assume that by choosing a job that looks really interesting means you’re less likely to go into work dreading each day. Being unhappy at work really does take a toll in one way or another, so wherever there’s an opportunity to be happy, take it. You would need to make sure though that you’re not jumping ship purely to get out of this job, or that you’re viewing this seemingly interesting job through rose-tinted glasses. This could potentially only solve your problem short-term where after a while you find the job does nothing for you and you’re back to where you started.

Your ‘chosen’ career

I can’t help but notice, however, that you say that you are in your ‘chosen’ career. I can understand why this then throws a spanner in the works and can cloud your judgement. By being in your career of choice suggests you have made it through the gory steps of deciding what you want to do with your work life and/or have some sort of vocational or higher educational qualifications to match. This might have all been for nothing if you choose the first option, where you are exploring a new profession.

Or will it? You would have probably explored the new profession in terms of the job satisfaction it offers, is there a clear route for progression, does the money meet your desired income etc. but have you brought these findings back to your chosen career? By this I mean are there any skills you will learn and develop by taking this new tangent that you can then, at a later date, bring back to your chosen career?

These are termed as transferable skills, and I’m all for them. Taking a side step – or even a back step if needs be and you can afford to do so – into a new tangent means you get the chance to build up experience and new skills that you might have otherwise missed out on, especially if they are skills that aren’t expected of you in your chosen career. These skills, however, can be the very thing that separates you from the rest out there. Not only can you consider yourself still a ‘member’ of your chosen profession while you take that side step (carry on with keeping on top of your industry news, professional membership, qualifications), and therefore keep you in that professional frame of mind, you can bring so much more to the table from taking that bold move when you return to it.

And don’t be afraid to explain why you took this bold move to new potential employers during your interview, or as part of your career bio. They should admire you for recognising the skills that you needed to develop outside of your profession but still transfer them back to it when you were ready to progress. The generic title shouldn’t factor into their decision-making if they understand what they require from a candidate. They’re after what you can do, not your job title.

A brand new direction?

There is also the possibility that this could be a serendipity moment where you discover this new role becomes your new chosen career. By experiencing the new role first hand, you might really enjoy it and wish to progress in this field instead. When asking people how they got into their chosen career, you’d be surprised at how many of them say that they stumbled into it after making an unexpected or unintentional career change. I’m one of them! You will just need to make sure you won’t miss the things that attracted you to your current career in the first place, or find ways of incorporating these attractive qualities into the new tangent.

If the new tangent is so far off-piste that it seems you can’t transfer any skills back (you always can by the way which I will write about in another article, but for now let’s pretend you can’t) and you feel you need to stick it out in your current role, don’t do it solely for the title. They mean a lot less than you’re giving them credit for, especially in the age of made up titles. Do it because you believe this is a stepping stone to the place you really want to be and that the slog between now and then will be worth it.

If you decide to stay, you need to consider how long you intend to stay there and when the next progression opportunity is likely to happen. This should give you your ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ so you can focus on riding it out and getting through it with a target date in sight. Then while working through this time, look for ways that you can make it count by working on extra qualifications, extra research, develop new and existing skills, or even just clocking up the career miles – anything that keeps you occupied and helps you through it.

Moving on

If you think the time is too long to manage, or there is little proof to suggest there’s scope for progression any time soon, then you might have to use the situation as a wake-up call to start looking for somewhere else. As you will know, job searching can be stressful, ditto for moving into the great unknown, so don’t take this option too lightly. But you need to figure out if job searching is much less stressful than your current role because no one should stay put in a role that makes them unhappy. You should also determine if the problem will remain with your employer, and that it’s not the role itself, as doing what you do but elsewhere might put you back into the position you’re in now.

Whichever option you choose, make sure it’s for the right reasons, that they have a long-term positive effect and that you look beyond what a recruiting manager decided to call the collection of things you do at work. You need to really think what would be the best direction to take that will really help your career in the future so that you don’t regret anything later for the sake of a quick fix.