This career advice post originally appears in my Work In Progress column for Forbes.com:
As a former recruiter and now executive coach, I have seen the arcs of thousands of careers. Some careers show constant forward momentum, while others languish. How do you feel about your career? If you suspect your career might be stalling, here are seven issues to explore:
- You’re doing the wrong job. I worked with a client who was a beloved manager in his professional services firm but who got passed up for a partner role. He needed to do more selling and more thought leadership. Yet, he was still very hands-on with his clients’ day-to-day needs. If you’re great at doing a job that is not the focus of what you should be doing, then you will stall in that role.
- You’re supporting the wrong people. This isn’t about being unsupportive or ignoring anyone. You want to be collegial and collaborative with everyone. However, you need to know who makes the career advancement decisions (about plum assignments, promotions, and raises), and make sure these people know your value. Your boss is hopefully part of this decision process, but s/he may not have enough influence or credibility. Therefore, confirm who does make these decisions, and focus your relationship-building on these decision-makers who can move your career.
- You’re serving the wrong goals. Market conditions change, and business strategy changes accordingly. You might have thrived when your department was in heavy growth mode and still might be proposing new ideas, repeating what had benefited you before. But maybe your group is streamlining or in cost-cutting mode, and your creative ideas are irrelevant, or worse threatening. If you haven’t recently confirmed what is on your boss’ priority list, then you might be focusing on the wrong objectives.
- Your salary has outpaced your value. If you have been at your employer for a while, your salary might have silently crept up above market value due to standard annual raises. Is your functional experience, institutional knowledge, and industry expertise worth your salary? Or are you just more expensive than someone with a few years’ less experience? Take an audit of the value you bring to the company, and make sure you’re not an easy target for the next restructuring.
- Your value has outpaced your company. On the flip side, you might be a superstar performer but trapped in a company that can never accommodate your level. I once managed an individual contributor who was so talented she could have done my job (and in fact, she now has a bigger management job elsewhere). But she would never have gotten my job for reasons unrelated to her performance: the group was small and didn’t need another person at my level. The company tried to manufacture a meatier role for her but if she wanted that executive title (and she did and she deserved it), she had to leave.
- You’ve stopped growing. Have you raised your hand for stretch assignments? Have you networked inside and outside your group to even hear about stretch assignments? Have you attended an industry-related event or conference in the last year? Are you up-to-date on trends, technological advances, and thought leadership in your area? Career advancement doesn’t just happen by clocking in time. You need to contribute value and increase your value over time by growing yourself and following emerging trends in your area.
- You’re on auto pilot destination unknown. If this article is the first time you’re thinking about whether you’re doing the right job, supporting the right people and goals, and contributing enough value, then your career is on auto pilot. What you did before, even if it served you well, may not be relevant as market conditions change and companies respond accordingly. You need to regularly look at your career and proactively manage your work habits, your focus, your network, your skills, and your expertise.
A stalled career isn’t just about the person who wants to move up and has not. Maybe you don’t want a promotion. But your career still might stall if you become too expensive for where you are and find yourself restructured out of a role you loved. If you don’t want to move up, you can still focus on adding enough value right where you are to justify your salary. A stalled career isn’t about hating your employer. Maybe you love your company and accept you’re topping out but hoping things will change. It’s great to be happy where you are; just recognize that you’re taking a risk if your company doesn’t change to accommodate you. Whatever your career objectives are, your career will stall if you blindly work “hard” and assume that is enough. Instead, consciously navigate your career towards the goals you proactively choose.