Career Management when you can’t change your company

I was talking to some of my friends and this question came about: what do I do if I can’t change my company even though my career is stuck here.

I have observed this many times; discussions about career management (and growth) seem to imply a change in the current company, even though it need not be. However, to be fair, there indeed are many reasons when someone can’t change their current company even when they need to:

  1. There may not be enough choices in the market, either because economy is down, or your skills are out of sync with the market.
  2. If you are not a citizen, status of your visa may not permit you to change the company (for ex: in US, if you are on L1, or under green card processing, changing a job is very difficult).
  3. Your personal situation doesn’t allow you to change (for ex, you are pursuing part-time degree paid for by the company, etc).
  4. You really like the company in general (or the salary!) and don’t really want to leave the company.

Given such a constraint (natural or otherwise), it may seem that we can’t do much about the career because of these constraints. However, I have seen examples of great creativity from people in those situations, and I thought I will share some of those; it may help some of you who find yourself in this situation.

  1. Discuss with your manager: This sounds too trivial, but many times, managers aren’t aware that you think your career is stuck. Having a conversation with your manager, with clear objectives in mind, can help in many cases. If you need some tips on how to do handle your manager, you can read one of my previous posts.
  2. Transfer to another group within the company: This sounds easy, but requires some careful planning to do this successfully. Most of the openings remain unadvertised internally, in many cases, there is a need but no advertised position, and many companies have the tendency of getting ‘fresh blood’ from outside when they get an opening. To be successful, it is important to develop (or revive) your social network within the company so that internal requirements are known to you as well as your capabilities are known to the target group; think about attending meetings which ‘interesting contacts’ are expected to attend. You also need to understand how your experience in current job benefits this opening; you will again have to rely on your network friend in that department for this. You may find some of these tips helpful.
  3. Pick some interesting side project: The project needs to be something which is (loosely at least) aligned with your career goal as well as your current assignments. For example, if you are a test engineer and think you are stuck; think of solving next testing problem by learning a new language/tool. Such side project serve many purposes: they can get you noticed and get your career moving again, or they can make you more useful for another department in the company and you can apply #2 above. Another good way of picking an interesting side project is to volunteer for any assignment that comes up, it has the same desirable effects.
  4. Upgrade your skills: In too many situations, those who think they are stuck in a career/company give up, thus wasting their time. If you can’t do any of the above, make sure you can use this time to enhance your skills. This will help you in your current company or in the future company when you do move. Again, without motivation, it is very hard to learn new things, but some of the ways I have found people doing this are to do some variation of #3 above: pick a new skill and connect it to your current job. For example, developers/QA can start their own web site/wiki/blog where they can experiment and/or write about technical stuff which they are learning (and once you get into it, you learn for the sake of maintaining your site/wiki/blog!). In addition to serving as direct motivation for spending time on upgrading the skills, these also have a very desirable side-effect of creating and enhancing your personal brand.

Of course, I hope that before embarking on any (or all) of these, you will step back and try to create the career path you want to pursue, see one of my other posts for thoughts on this.

I will be interested in knowing how others have fared in such situations. Do post your comments and stories.

8 thoughts on “Career Management when you can’t change your company

  1. The grass is always greener…but is it?

    To say ‘my career is stuck here’ is only true for those who think it is or for some who work in very small companies.

    If one is thinking of leaving your company, only because ‘my career is stuck here’ then think again and use the 4 points outlined.

    Also, find yourself a career mentor (not your manager) as you may feel more inclined to open up and discuss future avenues.


  2. Thanks for your comments Andre.
    I Agree. Most of the time, ‘career is stuck’ is in the minds of people. Can’t agree more with the fact that getting a coach/mentor is critical in these situations. However, it is tough to find one unless you look for him/her “before” you need them.

  3. One more thing I observed, people stick to a company the comport level change after working for few years in the same work or domain, they feel uncomfortable to change the company…

  4. Another point –

    When discussing this with his manager/mentor, should one mention that he is stuck in the company because of a constraint (reasons1, 2, 3 )?
    Because by saying that, in a way he is revealing the fact that he will move on as and when those hurdles are gone.

  5. Veeresh, I don’t think mentioning the reason is a good idea, because it doesn’t conveys any value to the manager (unless manager is in a position, and willing, to get some of these constraints go away). If you look at it from company perspective, even if you may go after the hurdle is gone (and they may know it even without you telling it!), it is in company’s best interest to put you to best use while you are there because you are being paid. So it is win-win to get your career to a place where you are motivated to give much more.

  6. I have seen first hand the concept that you are talking about. And, I am happy with it 🙂
    I have been in my current company for over 4 years now. I have been through rough times ( where, either I didn’t like my work or my manager ), which really drained my energy and creativity.
    I have, with some help, managed to find happiness and success in the same company.

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