Burying a dead end job

A typical office workplace

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

KAI RYSSDAL: We got an e-mail not too long ago from a young guy, he's in his 20s but he's carrying the despair of someone twice his age. You're thinking, he's buried under student loan debt or he had a horrible break up. Close. It's a break up that hasn't happened yet. He wants to dump his job. He says it's leading him nowhere. So we called Michael Laskoff. He's a "re-employment" expert. Michael, this kid worries that his career is basically finished.

MICHAEL LASKOFF: Right. And I think it's important to start with, what is a dead-end job? And I came up with three very simple criteria that I think will help.

RYSSDAL: Alright.

LASKOFF: If 12 months from now you know how much money you'll be making, what you'll be doing, and if neither of those things have anything to do with who you're working for, you're in a dead-end job.

RYSSDAL: Alright. I have to quit now, because I'm clearly in a dead-end job.

LASKOFF: You're in a dead-end job.

RYSSDAL: Seriously? I'm in a . . .

LASKOFF: You're in a dead-end job, but you're in a dead-end job you like.

RYSSDAL: That's right. Seriously, so you think those are three pretty good parameters.

LASKOFF: If you're not happy with where you are, and that's not going to change, you're in a dead-end job.

RYSSDAL: Are we talking here about the blahs that we all get occasionally where you're like, 'Oh, man, my job just stinks' or is this something longer term?

LASKOFF: No, I think this is going to be a long-term thing. It's got to be like, if you're feeling dissatisfied and that's not just something that's going on today, it's been going on for a while, and it's not going to change, then you've got to change. So there are only two things to do then: You fight or you flee.

RYSSDAL: What about, you know, there's small stuff and big stuff in a work environment. You know, the idiot in the next cube who cuts his fingernails and it drives me nuts is one thing, but something structural with the company is another. How do you differentiate? Obviously those are two extremes, but how do you differentiate when those extremes get closer?

LASKOFF: Well, the thing that I think you got to look at is you got to look at, you know, you gotta look at what is the nature of your job? What are your responsibilities? Where is that coming from? And is there a likelihood that that's going to change? When there's a problem with the nature of your responsibilities or, for example, you've grown and the company doesn't think you have, those are the structural problems. The guy who sits next to you who cuts his, you know, toenails, you know what? I suggest that you get bad polka music and play it every time he does so. Everything will work out in the end.

RYSSDAL: If you've grown and the company doesn't perhaps think you have, one way to demonstrate that, and maybe get some more growth for yourself, is to just work harder.

LASKOFF: Well, it depends. If you're a cog, if you're really doing your job superlatively and the company's really happy with you, you're just going to be a better cog.

RYSSDAL: Hmm.

LASKOFF: So there's not necessarily any incentive for them to say that, 'Hey, we should give you some more stuff.' What you've probably got to do is take the bull by the horns and say, 'I have a great job, I really like the company, I like what I'm doing. I'm ready to try some new stuff ' -- maybe that's near your responsibility; maybe that's doing something laterally that's
different -- 'but I want to keep contributing.' If you don't do that, people are just going to assume you're happy.

RYSSDAL: What about complaining?

LASKOFF: Well, I don't think you want to complain, because generally speaking, complaining goes this way: 'You're my boss, and I think you're an idiot.' And so it's much better to say the whole, 'It's not you, it's me' speech.

RYSSDAL: Yeah.

LASKOFF: Which is, 'Hey, I've learned a lot in what I've done here in the past year, and I really feel like I've got some mastery of the work now, and I'd like to see what I can do next. What are the new things that could come my way here or maybe in some other part of the company?'

RYSSDAL: Let's assume that is not a fruitful conversation, and you decide to pull the plug. What are some ways to sort of smooth that exit?

LASKOFF: Well, I think one of the great things about having a dead-end job, generally speaking, is it's not going anywhere. So you've got a lot of time, in most cases, to really plan your exit. The tough thing is once you make the decision that you want to go, is that you want to go immediately? You don't want to go immediately in a case like this. You really want to use the time that you've been actually allotted to plan a good and strategic job transition. So that means knowing what you want to do, as opposed to merely saying, 'This sucks and I don't want to be doing this anymore.' I'm actually saying, 'I want to work towards something in particular,' and then actually formulating a plan and working toward it.

RYSSDAL: All of this, not to say that you should sort of stop doing your actual job, because that could have bad consequences.

LASKOFF: Yeah. It certainly can. And you obviously, all things being equal, you always prefer to leave under better circumstances than not. But if you know you've got no future, and it's you're going to burn bridges behind you or in front of you, you'd obviously rather burn them behind you. So what that might mean is from time to time, yeah you actually do come in a little bit late, ultimately, because you're in the final round of a new job interview, and that's frankly got to be OK. Your employer, your current employer isn't doing you any favors. It's hopefully soon not going to be your job to do them favors any more, either.

RYSSDAL: You get into a new job, you discover fairly quickly it's a dead-end job, or maybe it's just not what you want. How long do you sort of have to stay?

LASKOFF: Depends how bad it is. My first job I took out of business school, I'll never forget, I was there the first day, I came home and I burst into tears.

RYSSDAL: Wow.

LASKOFF: And my wife said, 'You really got to stick this out.' And I said, `You're absolutely right.' So I waited two weeks and I came home and I burst into tears again. So that was a job that I knew right off the bat that I probably ought not to be in. And then it took me nine months to transition out of it, and I, to your point, worked very, very hard during that entire period at my existing job and left under very good circumstances. But there are times where your gut check just says, 'This was a terrible mistake, and I got to get myself out of here.' And then it's good to do so. What you don't want to do is to your point of, 'You know what? Everything is great but I can't stand the guy sitting next to me, and it makes me want to quit.' Deal with that. But when it's really coming from the heart, you really want to pay attention to that stuff.

RYSSDAL: Michael Laskoff. Thank you, Michael.

LASKOFF: Thank you very much.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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