How To Jumpstart Your Career After Staying Too Long At One Job

By:Caroline Ceniza-Levine
This professional is worried about being stuck in his career after staying too long at one job:

Am stuck in a company for about 12 years now. Want to move but am finding it hard. How should I go about it?” – Akinduro

The best way to get unstuck and jump start your career depends on why you’re stuck in the first place. I don’t know if Akinduro is unsure where to begin or has tried to move but earlier attempts have backfired. I don’t know if Akinduro is unsure of what he wants to do or has a clear dream but is wary of going for it. The way to “go about it” depends on the specific problem you need to solve. Therefore, the first step is to try and pinpoint why you feel stuck. Here are some common reasons people get stuck and how to jump start a career after staying too long at one job:

Reset your joy compass

You stayed too long because you can’t think of what to do next. You know you’re not happy in your job, or maybe you like it okay, but you feel topped out. Still, you haven’t identified a better alternative, so you remain where you are. Now it’s 12 years later, and the inertia feels even greater.

When you’ve spent too much time doing what you don’t want, you may have forgotten what it’s like to enjoy yourself again. In this case, the best next step is to reset your joy compass so it starts working again. Have fun again – start reading about subjects you enjoy, have lunch with old friends you miss, drop by a Meetup on one of your hobbies. None of these experiments should take a long time because you’re not getting an advanced degree in any one thing – you’re just testing out your interests. Once you’re comfortable that you are reacquainted with what you truly enjoy, you can start figuring out how to hone that interest into a career path.

Start where you are

You know what you want, and your job doesn’t provide it, but you have already stayed too long before figuring that out. This realization can be overwhelming – you can’t just leave your job having made this realization, but if you don’t leave, you’ll be miserable. Miserable job seekers aren’t attractive candidates, so you won’t get a job. Might as well stay at your job, and then you get more miserable. It’s a doomsday loop.

It’s true that you may have to change jobs in order to get what you want, but you might be able to change your job where you, so it encompasses more of what you enjoy, or move to a different area of the exact same company. Don’t assume that the only answer is to leave. Many times you can improve your situation right where you are.

Focus on changing your actions, not your job

You know what you want, you know that it’s outside your job and company, but the anxiety of launching a job search, especially after 12 years n one place, is keeping you stuck. Too many professionals let the overwhelm of finding a job or changing careers keep them rooted to a job they hate – the terrible but known is still better than the possibly better but unknown.

There are not many decisions that are irreversible, so don’t let the future unknown derail your job search. Keep yourself focused on one step at a time – not landing the job (the final step) but experimenting with your interests, updating your marketing materials, researching one company, connecting to one person. Focus on changing your actions, not your job, and that will keep you moving forward without getting overwhelmed with all you have to do.

Tell a different (positive) story

You are in the throes of a job search, but you get stuck at the interview process because explaining how you are still in a job that isn’t right for you after 12 years is not the easiest or happiest story to tell. If you just tell prospective employers how you feel, you’ll sound negative on your job. You may also sound complacent since you stayed too long.

Instead, tell a different story. Find the positive aspects of your job, and focus on these as you talk about your experience. This ensures your interview stays upbeat, it highlights what you have learned and achieved, and it also supports why you would stay at the job so long. Focus on the positive aspects of your long tenure – e.g., how your responsibilities have grown over time, how you have navigated changes at the company, how you have survived ups and downs in the market. There are always good reasons to stay at a job, even if you end up changing jobs or whole careers later on. Tell the good side of the story.

Set regular check-ins so you don’t get stuck by default

Sometimes you are not aware that you’re stuck, but something makes you realize it’s been 12 years at a job that is less than ideal. Now you feel like you need to rush to make a change because you have lost career momentum.

Don’t rush your next step! Taking a few months to do thoughtful, proactive career exploration will not set you back if you have been on career autopilot for years . That said, prevent yourself from falling into autopilot again by setting regular check-ins on your calendar so you don’t get stuck again. This can be as simple as an annual reminder on your calendar to update your resume. Or monthly reminders to reconnect with former colleagues. Or weekly reminders with provocative questions – What have you learned this week? What have you done to invest in your career? Are you fulfilled?

Kudos to Akinduro for stepping back from his day-to-day to contemplate a change, even if it’s 12 years in the making. However you decide to move forward, start today.

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you are the lion or a gazelle—when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.” – in Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

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