Despite the fact that you always dreamed of being that person who landed a corner office before you turned 30, you’re somehow still toiling away at an entry-level job. It’s rough wanting more, but feeling indefinitely stuck at the lower rungs of the ladder.
However, the more time you waste feeling sorry for yourself, the less time you’re spending on improving your own career. And believe it or not, you can leverage your current position to launch yourself into your dream job. Or, at the very least, the next level at your current company. It’s all about seizing the opportunity and knowing that success is closer than you might think.
Here are five ways to make the most of your not-quite-dream job.
1. Design your dream job, then strategically bring aspects of it into your current role
You may not like everything your job entails right now, and you might think you’re overqualified for the work that you’re doing. But, rather than dwelling on that, use your time in this position as an opportunity to figure out where the overlap is between your interests and your strengths. As you go through your daily routine, ask yourself which specific tasks excite you (as well as which ones don’t). What about those tasks are so enjoyable?
Once you have an answer, set up a meeting with your manager to discuss your findings. Come prepared with some suggestions of how you can add one or two of your dream tasks into your schedule. Don’t forget to explain why these tasks are good for the company’s goals as well. As long as you’re not putting off your other responsibilities, it’s likely your manager will say yes.
Once you prove that you’re capable of motivating yourself, you’ll be viewed as an asset to the organization. And the more you meet the new goals you set for yourself, the more your manager (and her manager!) will respect you for taking the reins of your own career. When annual reviews come around, it will be harder than ever to not offer you a promotion.
2. Find a mentor (or two)
You should have dreams. But you should also have a mentor who’s accomplished a goal you desire. They can help guide you toward those dreams by offering realistic advice and guidance. There are all kinds of mentors, and it’s worth the effort to find more than one. In fact, research shows that it’s especially beneficial to have multiple, diverse mentors.
Within the office, they can help you navigate the company culture, give valuable career development advice, and advocate for you when new opportunities open up. With that said, try connecting with at least one mentor in a department different from your own. He or she can not only offer a fresh perspective, but also expose you to new parts of the company — areas that might be more suited to the work you want to do. In addition, proactively seeking out a mentor demonstrates your enthusiasm and drive, all great qualities that’ll make a difference when a new position opens up.
3. Learn what your dream job requires
Oftentimes, people get stuck in jobs because they simply don’t believe they know enough about other industries or departments to change. Instead of hating on your college education for not “preparing you for the real world,” make a list of the information that would be helpful for you to know — and then get to work on finding and studying it.
Use your interest as a guiding principle when doing research. This should be fun, and if you’re on the right track, you probably won’t want to stop researching. Read books, seek out articles, and find experts to study (or better yet, connect with). Learning everything about a world that excites you is easy to do considering how much information is at our fingertips.
Being able able to reference that data and research when speaking about your ideas builds credibility and underscores your passion for another role — whether that’s in a different part of your current organization or a completely different industry.
4. Ask for feedback
If you’ve tried a few of the steps above, and you still can’t put your finger on why you seem to be stuck in your current role, then it’s time to ask your team for feedback. Schedule a sit-down with your manager to discuss what you’re doing well and what you should be working on to get promoted. While some of the feedback may be expected (“You seem disinterested”), some of it could be a surprise (“You can’t advance until you can single-handedly manage a client relationship”). It’s also very possible that your manager doesn’t even know you’d like to move up the ladder at your company — especially if you’re coming off as unenthusiastic.
And don’t just stop at asking your boss — ask a few co-workers what they think your strengths are, as well as what you could work on. Odds are they’ll be more withholding with the criticism than your manager is, but again, their answers might surprise you. Make sure to listen to what they’re not saying.
5. Make friends with people in other departments
Everyone knows that work’s more enjoyable when you have friends. Not only will they help you to feel more positive when you’re in the office, but they’ll serve as an awesome network within the company. After all, a team usually knows which positions are going to open up long before the general public, or even HR, is informed. While you should strive to make friends at various levels, it’s a good idea to make a buddy in a similar role who challenges you (and vice versa) to keep going after your goal of getting to the next level.
Remember, right now you might be the low man (or woman) on the totem pole, but you are the CEO of your career. Take charge, and make the most of where you’re at today. Even if these steps don’t lead to a promotion at your current company, they’re preparing you for the next level somewhere.