5 Career Ruts – And How To Dig Out

how to get out of a career hole

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This blog post originally appeared at Webster University’s School of Business and Technology blog, to which I am a frequent contributor. Check out their blog for more insight on developing your career. ____________________________________

So often I talk with people that tell me they have not been happy in their career for many years. They have learned to cope with a job that doesn’t excite them. It’s great to have developed a skill that enables you to manage difficulties in job duties or to cope with poor leaderships. However, if this has become a way of job survival, then you may be caught in web that you have created. You may be searching on company websites for openings, but the thought of leaving your current position can sometimes be overwhelming!

At times, we can get stuck in a rut.  It’s like being on a road trip that will take you days to get to your dream destination. You stop at a small country town to grab a quick bite, but while you are there, an unexpected snowstorm comes along and you are paralyzed and can go no farther.  In fact, a day later as the weather breaks, you are tempted to stay and make the best of it.  But, you decide to give it a try one more time, only to find that you have followed the storm and find yourself stuck again. Little did you know that if you had driven North you would have gotten to your dream destination!

As you are driving your career, you may find that you run into what I call “career ruts.” Here are five career ruts that many of us have had to overcome.

The 5 career ruts to avoid at all costs:

“I have no other choice.” Believe it or not, you often have other choices about what your career can become. “What else can I do?” It’s a question that deserves an answer.  It could be that you are in the right career market but you need to change your focus or find a compatible culture.  Remember to say in an interview, “I have transferable skills.” It’s important that you understand what they are and how to market them. Talking with others in the market you would like to focus on is a sure way of helping you understand what skills you have or what skills you should develop.

“I can’t change…not really.” Believe it or not, people can reinvent themselves. Learning to articulate your strengths as a person and not talk so much about your past jobs can open up other doors you never knew existed. Get friends to help you brainstorm. Focus on personal strengths. You might discover a new job possibility you never knew existed.

“What I want isn’t the point…it’s all about what they want.” Believe it or not, what you really want in a career is important. Here is an example of someone caught in what I call a “broken career cycle.” An applicant whom I will call “Sally” takes a job just to pay bills, but instead of continuing her career search, she tries to make the job tolerable.  She soon finds herself arriving late at work, failing to cover the details of the job, and soon finds management at the door because of her poor performance.  Soon she’s let go. Her career “red flag” finally goes up and Sally frantically seeks another job…any job. In this story, Sally is reacting instead of responding and as a result she finds herself running away, jumping into just another job, and not giving any thought to what could be her career dream.

“Finding my dream job is just a matter of luck…and I’ve never been lucky.” Believe it or not, a systematic exploration of career choices can open up other options, including truly unexpected ones.  You will be surprised to find that others will help you along the way. Don’t stop with talking to one or two individuals and think that you have enough information about a particular job market.  Be systematic in your approach and allow the information to intrigue and inspire you by asking for and getting clarifying answers. Remember that knowledge will empower you.

“I’m too old and I’ve been in this line of work too long to think about changing now.” Believe it or not, you are not too old and it’s not too late to change.  This rut can lead you to permanent paralysis. There is life after 55 and even 65!  So many people are now finding fulfillment in their careers as they reach retirement age. Many find careers that give them chances to continue to make a little money while still giving back to others and their communities. I know of one individual who finished up her education at age 57 and now has a new lease on life.  She is excited about what she can do with the second chapter of her life! As long as you have a career, it’s never too late to change the direction of it.

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3 Keys To Finding a Career Coach

St. Louis Post Dispatch career column

Below is an excerpt from my latest St. Louis Post-Dispatch career column about finding a Career Coach. Read the whole article here.


When the economy was hit hard around 2008 and jobs were scarce, it was very common to find 200-plus job seekers crowd into a room hoping to gain insight that would give them a leg up in their job search. They would attend seminars that promised “secret resume tips” or information on “how to interview like a star performer and get hired on the spot!” Many of these lectures led to helpful, tangible steps one can take toward a new job, but some did not — and that can be traced back to who was speaking.

I can tell you from experience the market has been flooded with so-called “experts,” and there are indeed measureable factors you can rely upon to realize whether or not you will get relevant, actionable advice.

So how do you choose the right coach/counselor for you without becoming disappointed later on in the process? I would suggest you look at three key areas…


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Understanding Patricia Arquette’s “Equal Wages” Oscar Speech

If you watched the Oscars last night, one of the most memorable moments was clearly when Best Supporting Actress winner Patricia Arquette ended her speech by making a plea for equal wages for women (in Hollywood and elsewhere).

So what exactly is the context behind her strong comments? This article nicely sums it up below:

There is a particular context for Arquette’s speech: the email leak at Sony Pictures revealed a stark pay gap between male and female execs at the studio, as well as lower pay for female actresses. On American Hustle for instance, a film with an ensemble cast of equal importance, male stars received 9% of profits, female stars only 7%. And Sony’s Columbia Pictures division has two co-presidents – one a man, one a woman – with the same job descriptions and a million-dollar pay gap between them. (“People should know what they’re worth” and not accept less, was former studio head Amy Pascale’s response.) And it’s not just Hollywood of course.

So what do you think? Have you seen wage inequality based on gender in your workplace? What do you think needs to happen next?

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Executive Career Mistakes You Can Avoid

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Making a career move is a tricky thing at any level of experience.

But I can tell you that those at the executive level do indeed face a unique set of challenges, and this often leads to mistakes that one may not see coming at other levels.

For example, executives often have to know how to negotiate executive bonuses. Understanding how to wade in these waters is essential, as handling it poorly can cost an exec two- and even three-figure bonuses.

I have worked with several executives through major career moves, alerting them to unique situations that may arise, and collaborating with them on how to get what they want.

I came across this article recently that does a good job raising awareness about 5 such executive-specific career hurdles. If you are an executive (or want to be one someday), I highly recommend you read it to get a taste of this unique professional career change.

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7 Terrible Tips For Your Job Search & Career

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Anyone who is experiencing a job search is sure to get advice from friends, family, professors, past coworkers and pretty much anyone else with an opinion!

There are some pieces of advice that have almost become commonplace – but the problem is that these tips should NOT be taken at face value. When someone hears “treat your job search like your full-time job”, that can be mis-perceived as “work 40 hours a week on your job search.” And as a Career Coach I can tell you that it’s not that simple.

Nonetheless, people love to share these one-liner pieces of advice like job seeking gospel.

US News & World Report recently ran a great piece calling out 7 such pieces of advice, claiming “some can actually hurt a job search or career.” Below is their list, but I highly recommend you read the article to get more insight into WHY these tips aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

1. “Going to grad school will make you more marketable.

2. “Treat your job search like a full-time job if you want to be successful.”

3. “It no longer matters how long your résumé is.”

4. “Offer to work for a week for free to prove yourself to an employer.”

5. “If an interviewer asks about your weaknesses, answer with something positive.”

6. “Following up with an employer after you apply for a job shows persistence and enthusiasm.”

7. “Track down the hiring manager’s name so that you can address your cover letter to the right person.”

Which one of these tips have you heard the most? Any others you would add to the list?


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You May Be Shocked At What Makes Some Workplace Teams Better Than Others

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I recently read a fascinating New York Times article that dug deep into the topic of workplace teams.

The article acknowledges that many people are disgruntled with office teams and/or workplace groups. We have all experienced wishful group thinking, personality conflicts and outright inefficiencies when “teamwork” is supposed to help us work smarter. It then dares to ask -

“So what makes some teams smarter or more efficient than others?”

This is where things get really interesting. They did a very scientific study (the likes of which you can read here), and the findings were quite surprising.

Among the results:

  1. Teams with higher average I.Q.s didn’t score much higher on collective intelligence tasks than did teams with lower average I.Q.s.
  2. Teams with more extroverted people, or teams whose members reported feeling more motivated to contribute to their group’s success also did not score higher than their counterparts.
  3. Smarter teams’ members contributed more equally to the team’s discussions, rather than letting one or two people dominate the group.
  4. Smarter teams’ members scored higher on a test called Reading the Mind in the Eyes, which measures how well people can read complex emotional states from images of faces with only the eyes visible.
  5. Teams with more women performed stronger.
  6. Teams with members who communicated a lot, participated equally and possessed good emotion-reading skills scored higher.
  7. Emotion-reading mattered just as much for the online teams whose members could not see one another as for the teams that worked face to face. What makes teams smart must be not just the ability to read facial expressions, but a more general ability, known as “Theory of Mind,” to consider and keep track of what other people feel, know and believe.

Were you surprised to see how significant empathy-driven factors are in leading to team success? Read the whole article for more information, and let me know your reactions in the comments!



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5 Resume Truths You Need To Know

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I’ve blogged about this before, but I can’t stress it enough: The resume is the most overly emphasized aspect of a job search.

Do you need a resume? Of course.

Bud do you need to spend time and money perfecting this piece of your job search arsenal more than others? NO!

Resumes simply do not make the difference in whether or not you get a job. Now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t even try to make your resume reflect your career, but it does mean that you should invest in other ways to showcase your strengths and value (read more on that topic here).

I recently came across an article that presented this same message by debunking 5 resume myths that far too many people believe.

Here are 5 TRUTHS that come out of that debunking:

  1. The “six second rule” is an incomplete average.
  2. Resumes can exceed one page and still look good.
  3. Resumes are professional, work gaps are personal.
  4. The technical definition of “insanity” must be considered! (paraphrased from original article)
  5. It’s not all about the resume – it’s about you.

If these truths interest you, or feature language/phrases that are unfamiliar to you, definitely read this article and let me know your thoughts or questions in the comments below!


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New Career Column: What Is Holding You Back?

St. Louis Post Dispatch career column

The following is the opening excerpt of my most recent Career Column for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Read the entire column here, and let me know what you think!


When coaching job seekers, nothing fills the room more with tension than when I first mention the need for a networking strategy and methodology.

Introvert or extrovert, it makes no difference — the “networking elephant” enters the room and the person immediately gets uncomfortable!


There are many reasons we don’t like reaching out to friends for help, or trying to create new relationships with those in our field. There’s pride, lack of confidence, fear and the misperception networking is solely driven by ulterior motives.

But there’s also another, more specific reason. After years of talking to people about networking, I believe people simply don’t know what to say, or what they want out of the conversation. It’s awkward, uncomfortable and simply doesn’t come naturally.

“What if they ask me a question I can’t answer?”

“What if the conversation goes dead and no one has anything to say?”

“What if I look needy and stupid?!”

These are all understandable concerns as one embarks on a networking journey — and all the more reason you MUST have a plan.

Read the whole column here.

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Should Meditation Be A Part of Your Career?

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So much of our career – finding a job, networking, advancing – is mental.

There are so many factors in a career that weigh on our minds, as evidenced by the many people I coach who are kept up at night by their worries at work.

So how can we keep from letting these stresses take over our life? By taking a time out and directing our minds elsewhere.

I am a big advocate of work/life balance, and we have to be intentional about taking time for our own minds and spirits away from work. For many this is their faith or religion. For others it is about family.

But one thing that anyone can do and/or add to their existing “happy place” is to meditate, truly taking time to put yourself in a peaceful state.

There are a lot of common misconceptions about meditation, which this article does a great job of dispelling. Instead, it focuses on how “…the benefits of relaxing a tired mind that is wound up from the stress of the unknown will help you focus on what’s really important – the factors you can control.”

Take a read and let me know how YOU find peace in your work/life balance!

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Why Volunteering Is Good For Your Job Search

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I’m a big believer in volunteering.

First off, there is the fact that it is simply so rewarding – contributing to something bigger than yourself can do wonders for your outlook on life, not to mention how you feel about yourself.

But did you know that volunteering can also benefit your job search? I’m not suggesting you volunteer with ulterior motives, but rather embrace the added bonus of how being a volunteer can tangibly impact your job search and/or career in general!

I’ve seen it first hand through my coaching. But don’t just take my word for it – this article does a great job of outlining 8 specific ways your job search gains from volunteering:


  1. Staying engaged.
  2. Building and honing skill sets.
  3. Increasing odds of finding employment.
  4. Making a statement that pay isn’t your biggest motivator.
  5. Increasing self worth.
  6. Expanding your network.
  7. General health and well being.
  8. Setting concrete goals.


The article does a great job of breaking down all 8 of these points, so check it out.

How has volunteering impacted your career?

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