Does Your Career Feel Stuck? These Expert Tips Will Help

How to handle that mid-career slump.
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How to handle that mid-career slump.

A few weeks shy of 25, and the majority of my peers have risen from unpaid internships to gainful employment. Sometimes we even skip the Anthropologie sale room, because, hey, we can sort of afford the full price stuff now. No longer pursuing entry-level gigs, we’ve traded cubicle chasing to corner office dreams. Or at least a door we can close.

This is where life starts to get complicated. Just how do you make that transition from assistant to manager, or junior to senior? The career slump can trickle in slowly. Projects or roles that once made you giddy to prove yourself now seem routine. Your supervisor has become more of a pal then a mentor, and your stagnant salary is ready for a boost.

I asked Beverly Ehrich, career advisor and graduate student program coordinator at Brown University, for a few tips on working through that workplace slide. Ehrich is a total campus celebrity. Students and professors alike have lifted her name to Beyonce status—need a resume update? Ask Bev. Your cover letter’s lacking? Ask Bev. Don’t know what you want to do with your life but your mother really, really wants you to be a doctor? Bev.

She lives up to the hype and has passed along her wisdom. Got any surefire hire tricks of your own? Share the wealth in the comments please!

01. Own up to it.

“Accept that everyone goes through career slumps, but don't accept it for long! Take a breath, and get to work figuring out your next steps,” Ehrich says. This can be the scariest part. A career slump is dangerously comfortable. Taking a risk, whether it’s scouting out a raise or jumping industries, can seem downright terrifying. The first step in de-slumping? Owning the stagnancy you’re in and committing to changing it.

02. Get your bearings.

Ehrich’s next tip: “Evaluate where you are now. What can you do to shine in your current position, and how can you showcase or grow your skills to stand out to supervisors?” Take time to flesh this out. Write out your current title, salary, and job description. Then start to form your own highlight reel. Look for moments when you were a measurable change agent. Maybe the company website had 200 hits a day, but once you reformatted the Q&A section, web traffic tripled. Any opportunity where you can showcase a workplace before and after makes you shine like the valuable employee you are.

03. Don’t slack now.

As Ehrich says, “Get reinvigorated—take on a new project or challenge. Offer to tackle work in an innovative way. Getting creative can give you a whole new outlook on your current position.” You can channel this toward forging a new office alliance. See if a colleague could use support on a presentation, or offer to assist in another department you're interested in.

04. Be resume-ready.

Ever seen your ex on public transit? Me too. You just can’t predict who you may run into. The same goes for new career opportunities—whether you’re looking to switch careers or not, “always have your resume up to date. You never know who will ask for it, or when you’ll need it.” Keep one master resume listing all your experiences on it. Then tailor different versions for specific employers.

05. Start scheming.

“Make your plan for the short term, and then for the long term,” Ehrich advises. ”Think about where you want to be in six months, a year, two years. Do you want to stay with your current employer and seek a promotion or move on?” Ask the tough questions, and meditate on your answers. What are your workplace non-negotiables? Consider a change in commute or flexible vacation time. Can you afford to take a slight pay cut if it means better benefits? Put in the work now to prevent wasting time and energy later.

06. Network like crazy.

“Reconnect with those you've lost touch with, while also thinking about those you currently have contact with. Reach out to your college career center to see if there is an online network you can link into.” Set up informational interviews and casual coffee dates. The older I get, the smaller the world seems, as everyone’s experiences become more intertwined. Most people love helping others snag an opportunity; be shameless about asking! Your parents’ friend, sorority alumna chair, the woman with the McKinsey water bottle at the gym—they’re all resources. Seek them out.

07. Fine tune your LinkedIn profile.

While face time is often preferred, in-person meetings can be difficult to schedule. No excuses, though, because the Internet is magic. Ehrich's advice: “Build or enhance your online presence. Refresh your LinkedIn profile. Who should be a major connection? Whose tweets should you be following? Should you be tweeting to establish an online voice?" These answers will vary industry to industry, but a solid LinkedIn profile is universal. This should go without saying, but while you’re building your brand, make sure the presence you’re curating is one you want potential employers to see. If you haven’t replaced questionable Facebook pictures or Googled yourself recently, invest a few minutes into an online image check.

08. Remember that change doesn’t come easy.

“Think about this phase of your career as a kind of job—it is a job to find a job,” Ehrich shares. “That means allocating time each week to networking, researching organizations or people, and applying when the time is right. Use this time as practice. Because whether you are in a slump, or just feeling that it is time to move on from your current situation, you’ll need to use these networking and job search skills over and over.” Perfect the art of slump-smashing. Sure, you can lean in, have it all, be a #girlboss, etc.—but I am always happiest when striving to become the best version of myself. Go get ’em!