(CareerBuilder.com) -- You have a job, and it's a good one at that. But something is missing. You aren't really challenged anymore. You've been doing the same thing too long. Your company isn't likely to be promoting anyone soon because it has just gone through a major downsizing, merger or takeover.
You have two choices: Quit and start over somewhere else, assuming there is somewhere else to go; or look closer to home, right in your current company, to see what other ways your talents can be put to use.
Getting out of your career rut requires a mental tow truck. Rev up your brain and consider these points:
1. Adjust your pace. If you told a 500-meter sprinter who was 250 meters into the race that he was now going to be running a mile, what's the first thing he'd do? Of course, he would change his tempo. He'd stride differently, pace himself differently. The first thing any sensible employee does in a downsized company is to do the same. Realize the path between promotions may now be longer. The rules have changed in mid-race. Tear out your hair and curse the gods if you think it'll help, but the worst thing you can do is make believe it didn't happen.
2. Analyze your competition. More than ever, it's important to know whom you're up against for those few remaining slots. What are the other people doing? What are they overlooking? Is the next promotion slated to go to somebody outside the company to bring in "fresh blood" and "new perspectives"? Analyze yourself, too. How marketable are you in the outside world? Get to know your value and your options.
3. Look for sideways growth. If you can't grow going up, can you build your credentials and experience through lateral moves that would teach you new skills? If you're dead-ended in programming, explore the prospects in marketing. There's never been a company yet that didn't need more sales. Give yourself an alternative route. It's a great way to improve your promotion odds long term.
4. Study the corporate culture. Does the company favor a certain way of doing things? Is there a corporate style? When you study the way the winners do it and compare that to the way you do it, you may not like what you see, but you'd better see it.
5. Take a look at your personal risk factor. Sure, there are ways to move up faster, but before you leap, look at the risks involved. If your advancement opportunities are fewer, you may have to find ways to stand out from the rest of the pack.
You may fall flat on your face trying, but are you willing to take the chance? Do you have any bold new ideas to propose? Will you take on projects that really stretch your abilities? You can get yourself noticed, and you may get ahead in the process, but your risk of failure increases, too. I'm for trying.
Go the extra mile. It's never crowded. You'll fail some of the time. If you don't, you're not trying hard enough. If you want to be the leader of the pack, you have to be willing to stick your neck out in front of the others. Sometimes it's risky not to take risks.
6. Draw up your plan. Add up all the factors: pace, competition, long-term growth options, risk and the hard facts about advancement. Then put down your plan, in writing.
7. Measure your results. If you can, share your plan with your boss, and then measure your own progress on a fixed schedule. If you still don't seem to be going places, it's time to tune up the résumé and look around for a new track to run on.
It's been said that the hardest part of climbing to the top of the ladder is getting through the crowd at the bottom. I would add that the first step is the hardest one to take.
Mackay's Moral: Get off your butt if you want to get out of the rut.
Harvey Mackay is the author of "Use Your Head to Get Your Foot in the Door: Job Search Secrets No One Else Will Tell You," as well as the New York Times No. 1 bestsellers "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive" and "Beware the Naked Man Who Offers You His Shirt."
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