How to Get Out of a Career Rut

How to Get Out of a Career RutIsn’t it funny how wearing in a path on a career you enjoy puts you in groove, but wallowing in one that you don’t enjoy gets you stuck in a rut?

Too many of us get stuck in that rut.

You might feel like there just isn’t enough opportunity. Not for you, anyway.

You might feel like nobody will give you a chance. A chance to let you really shine.

Maybe you feel like your ship has simply sailed. It’s too late to try and change course now in any meaningful way.

Probably you have practical reasons to consider. Things like a pension plan or healthcare or getting “vested” in one thing or another, whether it’s stock options or vacation days.

These things all feel very real. But they lock you in in a way that is not healthy.

Because you end up deciding “no” before you even try.

Let’s change that today.

Because there is a way out that is easier than most people think.

All you need to understand is that there are three critical components of career advancement. Then, you can manipulate them to your advantage.

Once you have an understanding of these fundamentals and how to work them, there is no limit to where you can steer yourself.

Even if you are stuck in what feels like a deep rut.

With a few simple moves, you can start to make things happen.

That’s what I’m going to teach you in this post.

First, understand “the big three”

Career building is a bit of a catch-22. You need to have knowledge and experience in order to qualify for new opportunities.

But you don’t start out with any qualifications.

That’s where credentialing comes in.

You go to school and as you complete your academic work, you are promoted from one grade to the next. Ultimately, you complete a college degree and they award you a diploma.

That diploma is an important credential that says, “This person went through a rigorous program at an accredited institution and we hereby declare that they did everything we required. And we’ll put our reputation on the line to back it up.”

The harder the degree or more prestigious the college, the more valuable the credential.

Embedded in that little synopsis is the big three:

KNOWLEDGE: Stuff you know

EXPERIENCE: Stuff you have done

CREDENTIALS: Validation from someone that you’ve got knowledge and experience

For example:

You learned a lot of information at college.

You gained experience in analysis techniques, critical thinking, and social navigation through college life.

The college validated both of those things by bestowing a credential upon you.

Everything after college is more of a risk–for you and whoever decides to hire you.

That’s why you need to understand the process.

Then, know the process

From your first job on, someone is taking a chance on you. Which is why credentials are important enough to make “the big three.”

Credentials help the other person to hedge their bet on you.

When you get your first job, they know you don’t have sufficient knowledge or experience, but they know that you are the kind of person that can navigate knowledge acquisition and the completion of task assignments.

They know this because of your credentials.

So they take a risk. Which gives you a chance to prove yourself.

You rise to meet the challenge. You grow into the role. You earn the respect and admiration of superiors and peers and other colleagues.

Did you see how that flipped?

Credentials become your foothold to the next level. The credentials you have now help to mitigate the risk that someone must take when they hire you, promote you, assign you to a critical project, etc.

Credentials are your ante. You need those just to get to the table and play a hand.

And you need to play some hands to continue credentialing your way up the career ladder.

After you’ve held position X for a year, you have a new credential.

“I graduated Bentley University with a degree in Computer Information Systems and I have worked as a Systems Analyst for the past year.”

The next person takes that into account. Because they know that you have acquired the knowledge and experience necessary to be a successful X for a year.

Or X for 4 years. Then Y for 2 years. Worked on project team A which accomplished 1, 2, and 3.

And so on.

These titles and successful projects are your credentials. Bestowed upon you by the reputation of organizations who hired and kept you working on all of those things.

The PROCESS becomes:

You acquire a CREDENTIAL, which allows you to move to a new EXPERIENCE where you acquire KNOWLEDGE needed to be successful.

How successful you become and what you learn along the way are important differentiators between one candidate an another, but the basic process holds.

That’s the foundation for your career advancement.

Now, you can adjust your approach to work this more strategically.

Then, flip the process

Here’s where you can hack the system.

The way you get out of your rut is to earn new credentials. Enough credentials that someone will be willing to take a risk on you. Which helps you get to the next level or a new place.

But to do that, you must first take a risk on yourself.

Because you need to go out and get KNOWLEDGE and EXPERIENCE so that you can get a new (or enhanced) CREDENTIAL.

I’m not talking about going back to school.

That might work, but there are lots of other ways to earn new credentials.

And you don’t really have any excuses. Because you won’t need to spend much money. But you will need to devote TIME and ENERGY.

KNOWLEDGE comes from TIME and ENERGY spent learning and exploring.

In today’s age of YouTube and Coursera and this thing called The Internet, you can acquire knowledge on anything that you want.

The risk you need to take on yourself is to devote the time and energy needed to acquire it.

That’s your first test.

If you’re unwilling to do that, you need to stop complaining about being in your “rut.” Because you are simply choosing to whine about things not being bestowed upon you out of order.

Instead of earning a credential to help someone hedge their bet on you, you want them to take a bigger risk on you and just hope everything will just work out because you’re such a nice and special person.

Would you do that?

Probably not. Instead you might look for a self-starting go-getter to take a risk on. Which is why you need to become more of a self-starter and go-getter.

The first step is to go out and get that knowledge.

Next use knowledge to get experience

Knowledge without experience isn’t all that useful. Which is why these two parts of the big three are so intertwined.

Once you’ve put some time and energy into acquiring knowledge, you need to find a way to gain experience.

Here you will need to get a little more creative. But there is also a secret weapon that you can use.

Trying to gain experience can be a bit of a pickle. Because you might need someone to take a risk on you before you have earned any credentials. After all, you’re trying to get the experience so that you can earn a credential.

Here is where your secret weapon can help you to break through.

What if you could find someone willing to take on more risk than usual? Someone who needs you more than you need them? Someone who is, well, sort of desperate?

Well, it turns out that you can find people willing to take more of a chance on you.

Anyone who is trying to run a big project, a volunteer effort, or start something new will be looking for help. And they’ll be more likely to take more chances than most other people.

You can offer to help with that project. And you will probably need to do some dirty work or tedious assignment or stretch beyond your comfort zone.

But you will be rewarded with experience. And that’s what you need right now.

You might be able to gain higher level experience more quickly through a volunteer position. Just be sure to approach those wisely.

If you’re an accountant, don’t volunteer to be the treasurer. Volunteer to run marketing or operations or fundraising. Get out of your comfort zone and gain new experience.

By looking for less obvious opportunities, specifically ones where people will be willing to take a higher risk on you, you can gain valuable experience.

And you will still be helping them to hedge their bets because you have dedicated the time and energy to acquire the relevant knowledge. You’re the accountant who has taken an online marketing course, read books on the topic, and attended a few marketing meetups.

Finally, get those credentials

Now that you’ve worked to get new knowledge and hustled up some experience, you can work up some credentials.

Because once you’ve run the marketing program for the local chamber of commerce, you have that as a credential.

Once you have organized a series of education sessions for the annual conference in your field, you have that as a credential.

And once you have taught yourself to play the banjo and performed at a series of local open mics, you have that as a credential.

You have acquired knowledge, found a way to gain experience, and you have a new story to tell about yourself. You have others who will vouch for you.

You have new credentials.

Which are your key to new opportunities. Because each new credential helps someone who is a little more risk averse, who is managing larger opportunities, hedge their bet on you.

Plus, you will have gained valuable insight along the way. You will have built your confidence.

You will be happier and more accomplished person. Which is always a good thing.

Pulling it all together

When you feel like you’re stuck in some sort of a rut, rather than hitting your groove, it’s time to take matters into your own hands.

You shouldn’t be waiting around for opportunities to find you. You should go out and create new opportunities for yourself.

To do that, work the big three pillars of career advancement to your advantage.

Go out and acquire new KNOWLEDGE so that you know more stuff.

Use that knowledge to gain new EXPERIENCE by working hard at opportunities where people will be willing to take more of a risk on you. And remember: these opportunities are literally everywhere.

Then, you can use that knowledge and experience to establish new CREDENTIALS.

These credentials will help you to become better qualified for bigger opportunities. Ones where people need to hedge their bets more.

To help people take risks on you, first go out and take some risks on yourself. Invest the TIME and ENERGY to get started today.