How to change careers when you’re stuck in a rut

change careers when stuck

There may come a time when we feel like we’re ‘stuck in a rut’ at our current jobs. This could occur for several reasons, such as low pay, lack of a work-life balance, no career progression, and so on. In such a situation, you may consider switching jobs or your career path entirely. Before you jump off this ship, let’s talk about how to change careers in a way that benefits you — or if you need to switch paths at all.

Switching career paths vs. switching jobs

The first thing you need to decide on is if it’s the job or the career path that’s the problem. If you’re switching jobs, you’ll most likely be seeking a similar or higher role than your current one in the same industry or something similar. 

For example, if you’re a copywriter at an advertising agency who feels like there is no room for advancement, you may search for the role of a ‘senior copywriter’ at another agency.

If you’re looking to switch careers, it would be pivoting to a different profession than your current one. This could happen in various ways. Let’s say you’re a retail salesperson with tons of experience in handling clients directly on behalf of the store you work for. A career switch would be becoming a social media marketer at a startup. 

This job would still rely on some of your skills from your previous job, like understanding what the customer wants and knowing how to position a product or service to entice them. Even so, changing careers would still require more knowledge of the field, training and familiarity with different tools. 

This guide will help you decide which option is for you and what steps you’ll need to take thereafter. 

How to change careers

We understand that not all of us were blessed with instant luck. Many people start their careers doing entry-level jobs just to make ends meet or to gain experience. Some end up graduating to better jobs they like while others continue to stick with the jobs they have due to fear of unemployment, necessity, comfort or security. 

A vague plan with unclear steps could be detrimental in either case. At any point in your career, if you feel like it’s time to make the switch, there’s always a path available — but these options should only be pursued after careful deliberation. 

Take a minute to answer the following questions, starting with an analysis of your current workplace. 

What is bothering you about your current workplace?

Oftentimes, the actual problem is with the workplace and not the work you do. You may find data entry at XYZ boring and pointless, but the same job at 123 just might reinvigorate your passion for data entry! You never know.
Below are the most common reasons why people consider switching jobs or careers. Read through the options and mark them from 1 to 10, with 1 being ‘least concerning’ and 10 being ‘most concerning’.

1. Poor pay: Poor compensation can be a difficult burden to bear. If you feel like your salary is insufficient for the work you do or that the market rate for your current role
is higher and you’re being stiffed, this would be a ‘highly concerning’ point.

2. No work-life balance: Having a good work-life balance is vital for our mental, physical and emotional well-being. Without this, our personal, social and work lives will all suffer. If you feel constantly out of touch with your loved ones or like you have no time to yourself, or even if you feel like basic chores in the house go unfinished because of work, you should list this as an issue.

3. Management: It’s an unfortunate fact that not all leaders know how to lead. There may be instances where poor management style causes a lot of obstacles for employees and disrupts their ability to carry out their work. Sometimes, management may even put in place measures that overwork the team. If you feel like your current employer’s management style clashes with your own work style, then this would be a key problem to note down.

job fulfillment

4. Distance: For those who have to go to a physical office to work, the distance could be a massive drain on both finances and energy. Some people travel for hours just to get to their office, and this may not be feasible for all in the long run. If you’re struggling with travelling back and forth from work and there are no accommodations being made for you, then mark this higher on the scale.

5. Culture: Work culture is never a black-and-white issue. Sometimes, employers may have great policies in place and have good working relationships with their employees, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a great fit for each person individually.

There could always be aspects of a company’s work culture that may be toxic to one person but beneficial to another. For example, compulsory sports events for all the employees may be exactly what a sporty employee needs, but something others may not appreciate.

6. Responsibilities: Too many responsibilities and too few can both be cause for concern. For interns and those who’ve never worked before, having fewer responsibilities is common as they’re only just learning the ropes. As time goes on, the longer somebody works, the more responsibilities they tend to accumulate. 

If you feel like your skills aren’t being put to use or that you’re being ‘overused’ to the point of exhaustion, that’s something to analyse.

Deciding if you need to switch

The following are some basic questions designed to help you analyse your feelings about your career and your current role.

1. Is this your passion?

This is a simple question: Do you love what you do? If the answer is yes, a career switch may not be the option for you. The problem might just be the work environment or other factors listed in the section above.

If it isn’t what you’re passionate about, then the next step for you would be identifying your passions and seeing which of these could be lucrative or viable as a career path.

2. Does this job align with your goals?

Think about your short-term and long-term goals. Is your current job keeping you on the path to achieving them or obstructing them? For example, if your goal is to become a famous singer but you’re stuck at an around-the-clock tech job, a career switch may be in the stars for you.

On the other hand, if you’re vying for the role of creative director and you’re currently a graphic designer at a creative agency with good prospects, then you’re already on the right track.

3. Do you feel fulfilled?

As minute as it may seem, fulfilment is something everyone searches for. For those who feel like their jobs leave an emptiness in them rather than a sense of accomplishment, this is often a big issue that needs addressing. Boredom and a lack of motivation are key indicators that your job is leaving you unfulfilled.

Imagine this scenario. You’re a realtor at the tail-end of a three-month sales drought. But luckily, you just sold a massive house that had been on the market for ages. People kept saying it was haunted, but you still closed the deal. You feel excited and fulfilled, even though you’ve had struggles over the past few months due to a lack of sales.

In this situation, the hardships may cause you to feel unfulfilled, but the moment you successfully complete a sale, you may feel like everything’s finally in place. If so, the issue here might just be how you’re tackling your work and how you handle it when things don’t go according to plan.

Landing dream job

4. Do you feel like you’re not growing as an employee?

Professional development is a complex and lengthy process. If you feel like you’ve already hit the roof in your current role and you’re not learning anything new, a switch is something you could consider – but are you switching careers or jobs? This is where it gets tricky.

Say you’re an English teacher and you’ve already done everything you set out to do — received your qualifications, secured a good job with great pay, taught several classes successfully and watched them all get good grades.

Now, you may think, “Where do I go from here?” Do you want to stay on and aim for a higher role, like department head or go for a professorship at a college? Or would you prefer to do away with it entirely and become an event planner? 

The next steps

After answering the questions above, if you are more certain about wanting to switch careers, then here are the steps you need to take to make the transition happen.

1. Identify your interests

Before diving into a career switch, first list out the things that you’re passionate about. What interests you? What excites you? This could help you pinpoint potential career paths that would work for you.

For example, if you love reading and find libraries alluring, perhaps you could be a librarian. Maybe that’s too relaxing an environment, but you still love reading and you’re looking for something more demanding. How about working as a book editor?

2. Carry out a SWOT analysis

SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analyses are great for many situations — and especially helpful when you want to identify new career opportunities. This form of self-assessment will help you see your strengths and weaknesses in plain sight, while also highlighting the obstacles you’re currently facing and the opportunities at hand.

Combine the results of your SWOT analysis with your interests to identify fields you think you’ll thrive in.

3. Research is king

Now that you have a list of fields, you need to research them. Read up on the requirements, check up on the industry trends, and most importantly, look at what other professionals in the field are doing.

You must also utilise this time to read up on potential employers and shortlist good options. Make sure to check their websites and social media to understand their values, their team, and find out what sort of workplace it might be.

Next, you’ll want to read up on their accomplishments and the occasional mess-ups, if any. Check PR articles they’ve published and scan for buzzwords the companies like to use. One of the most important steps you must take is to read Glassdoor reviews (or similar websites that post reviews from employees about a company). This way, you’ll be able to eliminate potentially toxic employers without wasting any time.

4. Reach out

Now that you have a better understanding of your career options and the companies you’d like to apply to, try building a network within the field/s of choice. Reach out to professionals, join Facebook groups, and follow Reddit threads.

See if you can gather more information on what skills you may need to work on and how the situation is looking for those working in this field.

5. Apply

Once you’ve finally got all the information you need to know, you can start to apply. Keep an eye out for freelance opportunities as well as job postings on platforms like LinkedIn — or even Google Careers

Start crafting your CV (or resume) and a portfolio if needed. You’ll have to send out dozens of CVs to get noticed by the right people, but don’t let that get you down. Just make sure that your CV follows all the rules of a good application so that you can boost your chances. You can find a template here.

Note that you may not have all the skills needed for a role, but a good metric to have is that you meet the major requirements. If possible, do some short courses online to gain additional skills and include them in your CV.

Final thoughts

A fulfilling career may not be everyone’s ultimate goal. There are often things that take precedence over our jobs, like spending time with our families or taking care of our health. For others, a good, stable job may be their biggest passion (and that’s alright).

The world moves fast and there’s never a good minute to stop and think, so if the thought of wanting to change careers comes to you, take a breather and analyse why. Yes, it could go sideways but there’s just as much a chance of you achieving greater success by taking a leap of faith (in the right direction). 



Kahless is a writer with a special interest in sociology. He spends much of his free time travelling, reading, writing, and stopping his cats from ripping apart everything he owns. It’s advised to bring along a strong cup of coffee (3 espresso shots minimum) when approaching him.

Keep reading