The Career Plateau: Not Entry-Level, but Not Experienced

Frustrated man

You find yourself wrapping up another week, with another small paycheck and no sign of a promotion in sight. According to your Facebook feed, seemingly everyone else you know has moved up at least twice since graduation, while you are stuck on a treadmill of copy-making and updating Excel spreadsheets. Your boss keeps assuring you that you are appreciated and that as soon as an appropriate internal opportunity presents itself, you’ll be on your way to great things. While that assurance may have seemed encouraging six months ago during your performance appraisal, it’s small comfort as your living expenses rise and your paycheck remains stagnant.

Unfortunately, you may also find yourself in that awkward stage where you aren’t quite qualified to apply for open positions at other companies, but you’re overqualified for entry-level jobs that pay more.

Before seriously contemplating a career move, it’s worth asking yourself the questions below and confirming your answers through peers and mentors. Keep in mind that each industry has its own idiosyncrasies.

1. How long have you been in your current position?

If this is your first job out of school, think twice (or even three times) if you haven’t put in at least two years. Of course, if extenuating circumstances apply—a family crisis, going back to school, office relocation, pending layoffs, or finding out that your department has been taken over by a person you don’t see eye-to-eye with—it might make more sense to leave after year one. Just be prepared to do some explaining if you do choose to leave your first job before you’ve completed two years. If you’re in a highly competitive industry, it might be worthwhile to grind through year two.

2. Where do you want to be five or 10 years from now?

It’s important to have an answer to this question if you’re considering a move. If you are reading this article, you probably don’t feel like you are getting what you need in your current job, and you probably don’t want to work part-time in retail or fast food. While it is helpful to know what you don’t want, it’s more helpful to know what you do want to accomplish in your career. Most of us want more money and more respect. You might feel like you aren’t getting enough of either where you are, and that can be frustrating. As difficult as it may be, try to remember what drove you to finish school. What did you want to achieve in your life and career?

3. What is it that you dislike most about your job?

This isn’t about the quality of the coffee in the break room or the receptionist’s annoying greeting. What skills and talents would you like to use more? How would you like to see your work rewarded?

4. Have you explored and exhausted all options where you are?

Sometimes, companies have internal opportunities but aren’t proactive about promoting them. If you would rather work in a different department, but would be fine working with the same organization, it’s worth asking someone in human resources (or someone else in a position to provide information who won’t spread a rumor that you asked) if any internal opportunities exist or might be anticipated. If your company offers tuition reimbursement and would be willing to subsidize additional coursework that would help you move up there or somewhere else, that’s an avenue worth exploring. If you do choose to take advantage of a tuition-reimbursement program, just be sure that you get the details about program requirements—some companies require that employees who leave within a certain time frame repay tuition funds.

Trust Your Gut

The decision to keep or leave your job is never an easy one to make. Sometimes, in spite of all the effort you put toward finding a role at a company that is a good fit for you, it just doesn’t work out. Sometimes, you join an organization only to see it change dramatically six months into your tenure. Sometimes, it makes more sense to leave than to stay and be uncomfortable.

If your gut is telling you that this isn’t where you belong and you’re better off leaving, it may make sense to do just that. It’s common for people to change employers every two to four years. Changing jobs isn’t a problem, but make sure you’re making a change for the right reasons.

© Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Amy Armstrong, MS, NCC, MCC, LPC, Career Counseling Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Dixie

    April 2nd, 2015 at 10:13 AM

    The one thing that I think young people especially tend to forget is that they need to try to tough out some jobs so that they can get a little experience under their belts so that when they are ready to move on they can actually make a move that is upward and not just lateral.

  • willa mc

    April 2nd, 2015 at 1:30 PM

    There are those jobs, though, when you have to leave for your own peace of mind. I have had jobs before where they drove me almost to the point of madness because they are so frustrating- the job, the people, everything about it. So you do have to tough it out sometimes but then there are other times that you have to just look out for yourself and do what you think is right for you.

  • Lindy

    April 3rd, 2015 at 9:44 AM

    I was in this kind of situation when I graduated from college and got a job with a company I had interned for. Since I had already worked there, without pay of course, I kind of already knew the ropes and had a leg up on the other recent college grads. So it was hard for me at first to understand my place in the hierarchy. Although I wouldn’t trade my experience that I gained while working as an intern, sometimes that could make you feel like you had done all of that work really for nothing because it doesn’t start out by getting you ahead any more quickly. But I did make some great connections and honestly looking back I would say that learning that lesson fairly early was actually a good one for me.

  • Gordon

    April 3rd, 2015 at 11:36 AM

    What I see the most are kids straight out of school who, granted, should be worth a whole ,lot more than what they are given what I am sure that their parents have paid for that education.
    But most of the time they still have a great deal to learn. Now I am willing to help them do that, but they have to be willing to accept that this is going to be an entry level job and with that comes entry level pay and responsibilities.

  • Lara

    April 4th, 2015 at 5:28 AM

    What many of the younger members of the work force need to understand is that most of the time you really don’t care what position it is as long as the compensation and benefits fit your needs at a certain point in your life.

    If they don’t, then of course it is time to either start looking for something else, or even better, look for ways that you can highlight and improve your skills so that you are going to be more marketable and more desirable within the company as a whole.

  • carlson

    April 5th, 2015 at 8:19 AM

    Being somewhere with a job, even if it’s one that you don’t like all that much, can be so much better than not having a job, any job out there, when you desperately need one.
    there are probably more young people who should try to think about it form that angle.

  • Penelope 11

    April 6th, 2015 at 10:36 AM

    No one wants to work with or reward that person who is always the one to pint the finger at someone else, say that it is their fault that they are not getting ahead. This is that person who can never take the blame or see any fault in the things that they do… they always see it is it is something that another person is doing to hold them back ad keep them from moving ahead. I have very little patience for people like this because quite frankly we have all had to work hard for what we have and have not been so lucky to have it handed to us on a silver platter. Why shouldn’t you have to strive and struggle for something like the rest of us have? At the very least this shows some dedication and commitment.

  • Amy Armstrong

    April 6th, 2015 at 12:48 PM

    Any career decision is a gamble. Staying in a situation that doesn’t feel right and that isn’t providing opportunities to move forward in the direction you would like to can mean waiting to get fired. It’s not as simple as just sucking it up and marking time. Since loyalty to employees now is almost nonexistent, employers are expecting everyone to put in 110% on the job, and it’s impossible to do that when there’s nothing in it for the employee. If staying seems like the lesser of two evils, it’s a good thing to do, but it doesn’t guarantee rewards any more than looking for opportunities elsewhere.

  • sage

    April 7th, 2015 at 10:32 AM

    I love my job and I am committed to sticking it out there even though I am pretty sure that I could move somewhere else and get paid a little more. I have made friends there and it feels like my home away from home. To me there are times when yes, money is important but there are other things that make work even better, like a great environment to to work in, one that fosters and allows my creativity and makes me feel special and necessary. That is what my job does for me. One day the money will come, I am sure of it, and to be a part of the team that I am with now I think that I am willing to stick it out and see it through until it does.

  • Pauline

    April 10th, 2015 at 1:39 PM

    I work in an office with a bunch of young people who almost seem like they think that they are entitled to something better. I just want to tell them how good they have it, how I had to scratch and claw my way to the top and if they want what I have then they better be prepared to work a little harder for it.

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