At the beginning of your career, it’s rewarding to be part of a company where you can grow and learn. But ironically, the longer you stay – especially into mid-career – you may have trouble getting a promotion and moving up. If you and they don’t see your value in the same light, it may be time to move on.
Here are several causes of mid-career stagnation and what you can do to either keep growing inside your company or find a better job elsewhere.
You May Have to “Go To Grow” For That Job Promotion
Research shows that many people—even those with seemingly enviable careers—hit the lowest point in their jobs in their mid-40s. Generally, they report feeling stuck and face difficulties getting a promotion if they stay in a company for an extended period. Here is what you can do to avoid such issues:
1. Do Your Career Growth Research
If you’re in your 40s and have solid experience (5-10 years in the same job), take the time to research your company’s promotion history to understand why you haven’t gotten a promotion. Get clear on the company’s policies regarding career development and dig deeper into the business culture. Some companies have clear written rules that outline their promotion criteria, while others are more discretionary.
Find out who has been promoted recently. They may be able to give you advice about what the process was like for them and how they got the nod. How much did it have to do with their performance reviews or their specific achievements? Did their manager champion them or did they have to really campaign for it?
2. Watch Your Attitude
Maintaining a positive attitude is critical. View your current situation as an opportunity to rise to the challenge. Look for ways of perhaps digging deeper and finding a greater sense of engagement or ownership over your role and your responsibilities.
If you’ve been promised a promotion in the past but nothing is happening, what’s changed? Is it you or is it them? Is it possible that they’ve put a pin in this promotion because of how you’re showing up at work? If you haven’t had a heart-to-heart with your manager about this (or not in a while) maybe it’s time to sit down with them. You could also this up during a regular check-in. And get the help of other trusted advisors (both inside and outside of the company) who can guide you and provide a reality check if necessary to get you back on track.
A positive attitude is a deal-breaker. Even if you feel overlooked or that the promotion is overdue, your attitude has to continue to reflect your belief in yourself at the company, and you have to be perceived as all-in on your team’s mission.
3. About Your Manager
Needless to say, your manager’s support is vital in your career advancement. If you’ve been in the role for a while, you should have a clear idea as to whether your manager has your back. However, if they’re new to the team or if you’re a new report on their roster, you may need to spend some extra time and effort nurturing this relationship.
How’s their attitude? Do they encourage and support your growth and development? Or do they dismiss your ideas and concerns? Are they transparent about company policies and your prospects for advancement? Or do they avoid discussing these topics altogether? You need to pay attention to these and other cues to figure out where you stand.
Here’s another possibility: your manager is your ally but is unable to help you. They may not be able to get your promotion approved for any number of reasons. Maybe others don’t share their enthusiasm and support for you. But whatever the reason, if they have exhausted all possibilities internally to help you, they may be willing to help you find another job elsewhere at the level you’re seeking. Managers who believe in their employees will often work under the radar to mentor them on finding another job and give them the time to search and interview for a new position.
4. Maybe It’s Wake-Up Time
If the company keeps reassuring you they believe in you but they keep putting you off, at what point do you stop believing them?
Pay attention to any “Catch-22” situations. These are false promises that usually have attached to them an impossible-to-meet condition. For example, they promise to promote you if you bring in a certain amount of revenue, but you work in a department that doesn’t have the resources or support to generate it.
Ask yourself: Are they gas-lighting you? Do they keep changing the conditions or timelines while pretending they didn’t? Or they’re blaming you for things you had nothing to do with? If so, it may be time to move on.
Strategizing Your Transition
Don’t get mad if you no longer fit in at the company — just move on. Don’t transform them into “bad people.” Instead, plan your transition and remain neutral and professional to make it more manageable.
5. Redefine Your Role
If you aim for a more senior role, redefining your current role and determining what changes you want to make going forward is essential. Shift your focus from simply replaying what you’ve done in the past to figuring out how you can grow and develop in your current position.
Assess your current responsibilities and identify areas where you can take on more challenging or innovative tasks to demonstrate your leadership potential.
Communicate your goals and aspirations with your manager and seek their support in identifying growth opportunities. You may need to take on more responsibility or work on new projects, attend training programs, and seek mentorship from company leaders.
6. Make Your LinkedIn Profile More Aspirational
When revising your LinkedIn About section, frame your career goals as if you’re staying with the company and expecting their promotion. This communicates a growth mindset and will work to both support the growth you could enjoy at the current company, while also sending a signal to prospective outside employers as to what you want to focus on for the future.
Talk about your aspirational goals as the path forward. You could also talk about any new skills, experiences, or knowledge you plan to acquire to succeed in your evolving role.
7. Start “Acting As-If”
Create an “alter-ego” version of yourself who is already working in your desired role. Then, adopt the attitude of that alter-ego in your work.
Every day, go to work from the point of view o that alter ego. Start seeing your work through their eyes. Start acting as if you already have the skills and experience necessary to tackle tasks and challenges. By acting as-if, you’re prototyping what it would be like to perform the kinds of tasks and responsibilities you’re aspiring to.
Practically speaking, you may not be able to fully deliver on this strategy. Your manager or company may want you to just continue with your assigned role. But see how far you can get by offering to follow through on some of your alter ego’s ideas or projects. Just showing up with this attitude might inspire them to think differently about you. If not, well, there’s another indication that you need to get out of there…
8. Your Network Is Your Ticket Out
You know this: your network is the key to helping you escape a job that holds you back. People who know you and can vouch for you will help you find a better opportunity.
Work with your most trusted contacts outside the company to refer you to opportunities. Schedule informational interviews with them. These interviews are not about asking for a job, but rather about learning more about a particular company, role, or industry and asking for advice. Building a strong network takes time and effort, so be patient and persistent.
9. Watch Your Back
If you’ve become disillusioned with your manager or your company, and feel like they’ve let you down, don’t complain or share your disappointment with your co-workers. That’s the fastest path to getting fired and it’s not the way you want to leave. Don’t expect that people will take your side on this issue!
Be extremely selective about whom you share information with – even outside the company. You probably will have no more than 2 or 3 close friends (e.g. your partner/spouse, a life-long friend colleague etc.). On the outside, you’ll have to trust recruiters – and it’s their job to be discreet. Unless it’s an open secret at your company, and your manager is helping you find something new, you want to keep your current company totally in the dark. Act like nothing is going on. Deny deny deny! For all intents and purposes, you’re still drinking the Kool-Ade and believing that they’re going to promote you.
Read The Signs
If you’re thinking about leaving, or even just kinda fed up and “quiet quitting,” others might notice. Even if you’re trying to put a good face on the situation, it may be hard to hide how you feel.
Pay attention to subtle shifts in what’s going on around you. For example, if you are left off a memo or not invited to a meeting that you would typically attend, it could be a sign that you’re being kept from learning about or participating in certain decisions or plans. Or, if your manager is acting distant or (strangely) too attentive, it could mean they are planning to let you go. See if your colleagues look at you differently. It may not be your paranoia: perhaps the word is out and rumors are circulating.
If this is the case, hang on as long as possible, but be prepared to get that pink slip. It’s OK. You knew you were going to have to leave sooner than later. While the transition out will be uncomfortable, the good news is that you will be 100% free to focus on finding that job where you will be truly appreciated and valued.
Conclusion: Be Systematic and Stay Cool
The best-case scenario is that you’ll find a new job before leaving your old one and transition smoothly into the new role.
You will increase the chances of that scenario by starting this process early. Going back to the beginning, if you are not advancing as quickly as you had hoped, or there are unexpected, unnecessary, or unwanted obstacles coming between you and your aspirations, don’t wait to take action.
Add your job transition as a project on your agenda. Put a timeline together, set milestones, list the resources you’ll need, and do your research. Keep this project on the down-low. Access is on a “need to know” basis and most people don’t need to know.
If this is the first time that you engage so intentionally with your career, bravo! You’ve entered a more serious phase and are stepping up to a new level.
10. Your Next Step: Write a Mission Statement
What would you rather be doing with your career right now? Write an impassioned, personal statement about that preferred, even ideal, next job. Talk about the role, the people you’re working with and for, the values, the environment, and the impact that you’re making through your work. Keep refining that mission statement until it inspires and energizes you every time you read it. Now go out there and make it happen.