There have been times in my life, while working for other people or companies, that I’ve thought to myself, I should have more job responsibility than this, or, I should be getting paid more than I am. A disagreement with the boss over my skills, potential, and value to the organization created tension. For some people, this tension could be demotivating.
Dissatisfaction with career progress is often not something that could be blamed on the company on the boss. Sometimes it’s due to a bad fit between people, but more likely, employees can look at themselves to find the barrier to success in a career. Here are a few possibilities.
1. You haven’t defined what you really want. The first step to getting what you want out of a career is having a clear goal with a series of steps that will get you there. Knowing where you’d like to be in your career helps you carry a sense of purpose in your job. If career advancement isn’t important to you and you haven’t found a need to define any goals, chances are your boss will keep you right where you are. If you have a goal in mind and are willing to put in the effort to show why you can accept more responsibilities, you have a better chance of moving ahead.
2. You haven’t discussed your career with your boss. While the best organizations are partners with employees in the career-building process, the initiative must come from the employees. After you have clear career goals and a personal job-related mission, you must share that with the people in your organization who can help make that happen. I’ve been too quiet about my desires in the past, and it has hurt me. After the fact, I’ve had bosses tell me that they didn’t know I wanted more responsibility. You may think you are showing the organization what you want through your actions, but in most cases, career desires need to be discussed explicitly.
3. You aren’t passionate about your work. Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to follow passions. The missions that people are more likely to be passionate about are in fields in which is may be difficult to make a living. If your passion is fine art and the only job you can see yourself doing is a painting artistic landscapes, the competition to become one of the few painters who can earn a solid living on their art is tough. If your passion is in a field that pays well, like engineering, you have a better shot. Most people settle, and particularly in job markets that favor employers, people often take the jobs they can get and don’t factor passion into the equation.
When you’re not passionate about your work, it’s more difficult to summon up the intrinsic motivation that’s required to not only do what’s asked of you, but to go beyond the call of duty and excel, impressing the decision-makers in your organization. Find something about your job to be passionate about, even if it’s not the job itself.
4. You haven’t clarified why you deserve more. Few people enjoy talking about themselves, particularly if it could be seen as bragging. Unfortunately, managers are busy and often don’t see everything you do. This information should come out in annual performance reviews if your organization participates in this ritual, but these reviews tend to be formalities after management has already decided whether you receive a promotion or a raise. Set up time to review your progress with your boss on a much more frequent basis. Even if discussed informally, let her know that you’re succeeding in ways that may not be immediately visible to a busy manager who focuses on many different people every day.
You may also need to make the connection for your manager. Explain not only what you’ve done but the effect these activities had or will have on the organization.
5. You’re not talking to the right decision-maker. You may have had all the right discussions with the wrong individual. At one company, I knew my direct supervisor had a good idea of where I wanted to be, but she wasn’t the person who could help move my career in the right direction. While she always claimed to be working on my behalf, for my to see career success, I needed to have more open communication with her supervisors — not her direct supervisor, but her boss’s boss, two layers in a corporate hierarchy up. When you need to jump ranks in order to move your career forward, it can tend to be intimidating. You don’t deal with your boss’s boss’s boss on a regular basis, but she might be the one who needs to know what your goals and desires are. She needs to know how you’ve succeeded, and she needs to she your passion.
Relying on long communication chain may be respectful of rank, but in the end, it’s not going to get you anywhere.
There might be other reasons you’re unhappy with your career progress. Perhaps the company just isn’t a good match for you. Perhaps your management plays favorites. Perhaps you’d succeed further working for yourself. Perhaps your management isn’t lying when they say the company has no money. Rather than focus on these external factors, look within. If you believe the career path you’re on is the right path for you and you’re undervalued, you can change your approach to increase your chances of being noticed positively.
Published or updated November 4, 2011.