Stuck In A Rut? Here’s How To Move Up

January 5, 2015

Featured in 2015 Guide to Getting an Engineering JobYou know you’re better than this. You know you have potential. What do you need to do to get noticed and get your career moving?

It’s Not Too Late To Grow

Modern engineering jobs are very different from the industry of the 20th century. A few decades ago, it was normal to join a company right from college and gradually work your way up until retirement. If you had talent, you’d be spotted and promoted. Or at least, that was the myth.

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Credit: Cushing Memorial Library

These days, things aren’t like that for the majority of us. We can typically expect 8 to 12 jobs during a 40-year career.   “The recent economic depression has greatly changed the corporate landscape,” says career consultant Todd Rhoad.  “Organizations are flatter and lack a recognizable structure.  They have fewer opportunities to offer, leaving you to figure out where they are. If you want career development, you’ll have to actively manage it.  No one else will.”

No matter what stage you’re at in your career, you can make a change if you adopt the right mindset and the right strategy. Even as a veteran of many years, you don’t have to settle for staying where you are.

Are You In The Right Place?

Perhaps the most important decision you have to make is whether it’s time to leave your current job.

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Credit: Horatio Jackson Nelson

If you’re working for a small company, there may be little or no prospect for improvement. Senior positions may be filled by a well-established people with no intention of moving on. There may be no scope for new, more interesting projects or new challenges. If that’s the case, you need to look elsewhere.

If you work for a larger company, you have more options. Even if your own team or department doesn’t have much to offer, a sideways shift may be the new opportunity you need. “A move within a large company is often the career equivalent of changing from one smaller company to another and can be done at greatly reduced risk,” notes mentor and trainer Randall C. Iliff of

Aside from the more career-oriented factors, consider whether the company feels right for you. “Within six months, you’ll know the culture of the company and whether you fit in it or not,” says Rhoad.  If not, you’ll give yourself another six months or so, in hopes that something will change and make life better. Then, you’ll begin to assess your desire to stay in the company with no hopes of moving up or you’ll start looking for another opportunity.”

Once you’ve determined where your next step has to be, you can decide whether to focus your efforts on developing the perfect resume, or impressing your current employer.

Do You Need a Champion?

If you’re planning on staying with your current employer, you’ll need someone to speak for you. Most of the time, that will be your immediate boss – it can be very hard to advance without their support. Different managers have different expectations, so analyze what they want to see from you, and then deliver that. The important thing to recognize is that being good at your job is rarely enough – you need to be more than the reliable person who gets the job done and stays unnoticed. Make sure your successes are recognized and appreciated, and always be ready to step up and do more than anyone expects.

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Credit: Klaus Kommoss

Sometimes, you’ll need to bypass your boss. In the worst case, they may see you as a threat or may have a personal dislike of you, and actively block your promotion. Perhaps they’re unappreciative of your skills and potential, and are only focused on keeping you in your current role. That’s when your social network comes into play.

“In my book, Blitz The Ladder, I talk about Active Perception Modification System (APMS), a process for managing how you are perceived by management, not just your manager,” says Rhoad. “This is an important distinction because most advice on career development is short sighted and only focuses on your immediate boss.  But what happens if he can’t promote you or has little influence among his managers?”

Get to know other managers in different departments, the people in HR, and the senior management. If you can get them to propose you for a new role, or even to suggest that you apply, that may provide you with an unexpected exit route from your current position. In the event, your current boss may be secretly pleased that someone else has taken you off their hands!

If you’re looking elsewhere, then it always helps to have friends in companies you’d like to work for. Build your network on LinkedIn and go to as many industry events as you can. Chance contacts become job offers and useful references.

Explore All Your Options

Breaking out of a rut takes discipline, determination, and strategy. Start by figuring out whether there is a future for you in your current position. If so, then make a detailed plan for what you need to do and who you need to impress. If there really is opportunity for advancement, promotion should soon follow.

If, on the other hand, you’ve reached the limits of what your current job has to offer, then it’s time to look elsewhere. But don’t just look for the nearest way out. Develop a plan, hone your skills, and don’t be afraid to make your move.