5 Signs You're Stuck in a Dead-End Job

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- Chances are, many workers who returned to work this week after the holidays had a similar thought in mind: Is there anything left to accomplish here? It's a perennial concern that comes with the new year and can hit even those who truly enjoy their jobs.

"At the beginning and end of the year, I think people get that feeling of 'Am I signing up for this again?" says Carolyn Hughes, vice president of people at the job search Web site SimplyHired.com. "This is especially true when you've been in a job for a long time. There's a kind of annualized mode of thinking where you get into a work flow and have to renew your interest in it each year."
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Of course, a dead-end job isn't necessarily a bad thing -- as Hughes points out, some people are just looking for a comfortable position with a steady paycheck and the opportunity to build up experience. But if you're looking to advance in your career, few things are as frustrating.

Unfortunately, ever since the recession hit, many workers have been so concerned about simply staying employed that the idea of leaving a job -- even one that's clearly a dead-end position -- has been largely out of the question. More recently though, surveys have shown that a greater number of Americans are considering leaving their jobs on the assumption the labor market is improving.

Switching jobs is certainly not for the faint of heart in this economy, but if you answer yes to more than a couple of the following questions, it may be time to start looking elsewhere.

Does everything feel a little too familiar?
If you're living in a constant state of deja vu at work, chances are good that you've gone as far as you can go in your position and are now just running in circles.

"You can already fill up the entire calendar for the year ahead and know that it's already been done," Hughes says. As a result, you likely find yourself dreaming of something different, something unknown. "It's when the unknown becomes more interesting to you than what you already know is coming that it's time for a change."

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Is everyone you work with too comfortable?
There's nothing wrong with being comfortable in a job, but if many of your co-workers have been working the same jobs since before you were born, it could hurt your own career prospects.

"Are people moving around and given room for new challenges, or is this a static organization where people get a role and stay there?" says John Challenger, CEO of the career research firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. "If the latter is the case, you probably won't have much room to move up in the company."

This situation is difficult, if not impossible, to change since it's part of the culture of the company. That's why Challenger recommends finding out the tenures of your co-workers before accepting the job by casually asking those who interview you how long they have been at the company and whether they have always held the same position.

Is there a long line ahead of you?
Similarly, Challenger says that if there are too many people who have been at your workplace longer than you have and are all gunning for the job you want, your prospects for advancement probably aren't that good.

"Look at who is in front of you to get the job you might want and ask yourself who has tenure, who has the relationships and who has the performance," he says. "If there are a lot of people, you might be blocked."

In these cases, it might be worth exhausting all your options before you decide to up and leave. Challenger suggests making a stronger effort to outperform the competition and if that doesn't get you ahead in the queue, he says to try making a "lateral move" to another position in the company from which you may be able to advance instead.

Do you have any interest in your boss' job?
By definition, if you have zero desire to one day take over the responsibilities of someone else at the company, you have effectively reached a roadblock in your career.

"If you have absolutely no interest in your boss' job or her boss' job or any other job in the company, you are at a dead end," Hughes says.

The question you have to ask yourself then is whether you feel this way because you are completely satisfied with the position you have or because you are simply disinterested with the company or profession you're in. If it's the latter, it's time to keep an eye out for other opportunities.

Are you at a dying company?
Even if you have the opportunity to advance within the company, there may be still be the larger issue of whether the company itself is advancing or falling behind.

"If the company continues to produce bad financial results vis-a-vis its competitors and you sense it might be doomed, but you don't know how long, that is also a dead end," Challenger says.

There are plenty of ways to get a sense of this without enough time to switch jobs if necessary. As we've reported, employees should try to follow their company's earning reports and stock performance (if it's publicly traded), pay attention to any management changes and generally follow trade publications that can keep you up to date on the strength of your industry and the company's place in it.

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