Hit a Plateau at Work? Here’s What to Do Next
Angela Colley — It's Complicated
Dear It’s Complicated: How do you know when you’ve reached a plateau in your job—and what do you do about it?
So far, I’ve been pretty lucky in my career path. I started as an intern with my current company in college eight years ago. After graduation, I went on to become the social media coordinator, was promoted to social media manager not long after that, and then marketing manager, and finally to my current role as senior marketing manager. All along, I’ve received salary bumps with every promotion and my current salary—thanks to my tenure with the company—is higher than other advertised salaries for senior marketing managers in my area.
But therein lies the rub … While I know I’m making pretty good money (comparably), I also know deep down that I’ve outgrown my current role. My work just isn’t engaging anymore and often I feel like there’s really nothing left for me to learn in this position. There also isn’t anywhere for me to go up in the company.
I feel like I need a bigger challenge, but I haven’t been able to find one that will match (or come close) to my current salary in my area. I’ve looked for a different job off and on for about a year now and received several offers, but the pay is so low I can’t justify leaving. Now, after an exhaustive search, I’m left wondering: Do I stay, or do I go?
First, props to you on taking charge of your career. That isn’t an easy thing to do.
It might also help to know that many of us, at one point or another in our careers, have been in the exact same place you are now and wondering if the grass really is greener on the other side—especially if there’s less green to be had (terrible pun intended). That being said, while it isn’t an uncommon place to be, finding the right answer isn’t so straightforward.
Before you decide to make a leap or stick it out, you have a lot to consider. Our job is such a personal thing, and often wrapped up in our identities more than we’d like to admit, so I can’t tell you exactly what to do one way or the other, but I do suggest asking yourself three questions:
Does this (potential) job offer professional growth?
When comparing job offers, most of us gravitate toward the salary first—but that might not be the best way to go. While everyone should strive to earn what they’re worth and not settle for peanuts, true fulfillment at work generally doesn’t come from money alone. What a job gives you now and what it could give you in the future should also be a big factor.
The first thing you should consider is how engaged you are at your job now on a day-to-day basis and how engaged you might be somewhere else. If the work is too easy or you spend a lot of your day reloading Facebook or trying to see how many pencils you can get stuck into the ceiling, that’s not good news. Over time that boredom can have a negative impact. “If you're not feeling challenged or like you're contributing, you can start to resent what you're doing,” says Amanda Aurelia, a career coach who works primarily with millennials struggling to find a career path.
Next, you should consider if a job gives you opportunities to grow in your career. That could mean you can see a clear path for advancement within the company that will allow you to go on to larger roles that match your ideal career path, but it could also mean the opportunity to learn new skills, take paid professional development courses, or expand your experience for your resume. “So long as you're growing and taking on new skills, you can always translate that into something bigger and better,” says Aurelia, but if not, it might be time to jump ship.
Does it fit with your life?
Often, we take the job that looks the best on paper and then try to make our personal lives fit around the role, but how a job fits your life should be just as important as what you might make in a year or what your official job title might be.
Ideally, your job should leave room for—and enhance—your personal growth, whatever that may be. “[Job title] advancement is less important than personal growth,” says Aurelia. If, for example, you’ve been wanting to get your MBA, and your company will pay for some or all of your advanced degrees, that’s something to put solidly in the plus column.
Your job should also make you happy—at least most days. Aurelia compares a happy work life to a happy marriage. “You don't have to love it every day, but you should generally love [work] and be excited about it. Just like in my marriage, are there days I want to throw something at my husband? Sure. But 90 percent of the time, we support each other and have a great relationship. Your work and career should be no different,” she says.
Can you live comfortably?
Finally, let’s loop back around to salary. There’s no reason you shouldn’t aim for a high salary, but money isn’t everything. Especially in cases like yours where you may be above the average salary for your field already, it can help to compare each job’s salary alongside perks, room for advancement, and room for personal growth with a simple pro and con list. If one job offers a lower salary but lots of other “pros” it may be worth it to move on from where you are.
However, you don’t want to run the risk of taking a great job for too little pay and end up struggling to afford your rent. Even if it is the greatest job on earth, you’ll regret having to scrounge. To make sure that doesn’t happen, set a personal benchmark to get a salary range in mind. Create a basic cost of living budget as a starting point, but don’t forget to factor in other things like taking regular vacations, saving up for a house, or whatever else you eventually want to do in life. Your job should give you a way to live but also let you afford some of the fun stuff, too.
Aurelia also recommends factoring in benefits and perks. While some jobs may not offer a high upfront salary, they could offer a great health care, vacation, and personal enrichment package. Startups often offer equity to employees. While the company may not be able to offer much more directly to your paycheck, you may be able to negotiate an increase to your benefits—like additional vacation or higher equity.
It is a lot to consider, but on the plus side, the more you get into the details, the more you’ll better understand what you really want out of your career—and your life.