Everyone has periods in their careers when they feel stagnant. You may be gainfully employed with to-do lists to tackle and meetings to attend, but you feel stuck in a job that is monotonous or unfulfilling. Or, maybe you're discouraged because you haven't received a plum assignment in a while, or you passed over for a coveted promotion.
If you are dissatisfied with your work life, you are not alone. According to a Gallup poll, 51 percent of the U.S. workforce feels disengaged. However, there are steps you can take to get yourself out of a professional rut.
Business News Daily asked career experts for strategies you can use to begin to reenergize your career or, if it makes sense, break into a new field.
Engaging in some intentional reflection is a good place to start if you don't know exactly what you want or what is missing in your professional life, says career and leadership coach Kelly McClellan of INMITTŌ Consulting. Once you can identify some of the reasons why you are feeling stuck, you will be better equipped to determine the actions you need to take to improve your situation.
Reflection can take many forms, including journaling, completing personality and aptitude assessments, taking professional self-inventories, or engaging in a host of other self-discovery activities. McClellan recommends creating two lists – your "Must Haves" and your "Deal Breakers." Write down in these two categories everything that is relevant to your career, such as job location, type of work, daily tasks, compensation, leadership, etc.
"It all counts and belongs on the list," said McClellan. "The idea is to create awareness and give yourself words and language that will help describe what you are looking for."
Valerie Streif, a senior advisor with Mentat, agrees: "Doing these self-checks and being reflective is so important to make sure that you don't stumble too far down a path that isn't helping you get to where you want to be," she said.
Refresh your online presence
According to CareerBuilder's annual social media recruitment survey, 60 percent of employers use social networking sites to research job candidates, and 59 percent of hiring managers use search engines to learn about prospective employees. Therefore, it's worth your effort to leverage social media platforms to promote your professional brand. This involves taking the time to establish or update your profile on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
Your profile should be clear and concise and include a professional-looking headshot. This allows you to create a cohesive look across all your online platforms.
"If you are looking to stand out, invest some extra effort in your LinkedIn profile," said Stacy Moore, director of Career Services at Delaware Valley University.
Moore recommends posting articles in which you are featured, as well as, information about recent projects you completed to serve as a mini online portfolio for recruiters looking at you profile. [See related story: A Job Seeker's Guide to Social Media]
"Also, be sure to use LinkedIn's recommendation function," added Moore. "It is best to have at least one recommendation for each position, but the more you have, the better your profile looks to employers."
If you are ready to take your social media presence to the next level, consider writing blog posts (either on your own or for existing blogs), posting YouTube videos or hosting a podcast. You can use these platforms to demonstrate your expertise in a specific topic, differentiate yourself from others in your field or branch out into a whole new area.
Learn a new skill
One of the best things you can do when feeling stagnant at work is to identify what you enjoy most about your current job and what you dislike, said Britney Schroeder, director of content marketing at Power Digital Marketing. From there, she said, think about what skill sets would better position you to do more of what you love.
"These are the skills you should focus on honing and learning so that you are well positioned to transition into that new role or career path that will leave you feeling more fulfilled and excited to go to work every day," Schroeder added.
Chris Castillo, founder of Empowered Achievers, noted that soft skills are becoming more of a focus to set applicants apart. She recommends working on these soft skills by learning about communication and conflict resolution, attending workshops on emotional intelligence, taking courses on change management and leadership, or strengthening presentation skills by joining groups like Toastmasters.
Regardless of the skills you decide to develop, there are a ton of outlets – many of them free – that you can tap into to increase your knowledge. For example, you can sign up for a continuing education course or certification program at a local college, take advantage of training programs offered by your employer, check out tutorials on YouTube, or hire a tutor who can help you build an expertise in a specific skill area.
"Professional development is no longer top-down, company-hosted, but bottom-up, employee-driven," said Laura Handrick, HR writer for Fit Small Business. "Figure out what you need and want to learn, and learn it online."
If you want to grow professionally, you need to make a commitment to attend networking events or join professional organizations related to your field or the industry you are interested in entering.
"It is not uncommon to neglect your network unless you are searching for a new job, but the best time to network is before you need it," said Michelle Prince, senior vice president and global head of learning and development for Randstad.
You will encounter fresh perspectives and insight by attending conferences, trade shows, or simply building relationships with employees from other departments at work. However, Prince advises that you use your time wisely at these events by networking with a purpose.
"Be cognizant not to go just to score a lead for a new job," she said. "Rather, attend with a desire to learn and meet others. Consider how you can be of service ... You never know where that new connection could lead."
According to Harrison Brady, a communications specialist with Frontier Communications, you can be even more strategic with your networking efforts by identifying influencers in your industry and using LinkedIn and Twitter to reach out to them and ask for their advice or guidance.
"If you explain that you're trying to build yourself up in the industry, most of the time they will be more than happy to point you in the right direction," said Brady.
Take on a side gig
If you are curious about running your own business or want to see if an opportunity is a good fit before fully committing to it, turn it into a side gig. This is a way to test the waters without quitting your day job.
"If you are a finance person and you think you want to be baker, don't quit your job and buy a bakery. Start with renting out a kitchen on Friday nights and hitting the farmers' market on the weekend," said McClellan.
From there, she said, you can decide if you want to grow it into a full-time career.
Another option is to freelance with other employers during your free time. Freelancing can help you gain new experiences, form new contacts and earn extra income.
"It can also lead to a full-time position in some cases because the employer will become familiar with your work," said Moore.
Freelancing is also an excellent way to build yourself up as a person of authority in a particular topic or field, according to Nate Masterson, marketing manager for Maple Holistics. When someone Googles your name and sees the kind of work you've produced, it goes a long way toward gaining their trust and their business, he said.
"By using your skills and expertise to help businesses on the side and in your free time, you can build up some excellent reviews on your LinkedIn, other social media profiles and even on your clients' company pages," Masterson added.
Volunteering, while intrinsically worthwhile on its own, also can provide an opportunity to polish your personal brand and help you make valuable connections.
"Identify organizations that coincide with your personal values or your intended career path so the effort has a heightened meaning to you," said Prince.
Volunteering comes in all shapes and sizes – from one-time charity events to well-established non-profits – and allows for all sorts of interests and schedules. From handing out food at a shelter to writing briefs for a legal aid service, there is a need and a place for people with all sorts of skills.
Those who remain open to what the experience can bring may be rewarded with new opportunities.
"You never know," said Prince. "You may end up working on a project with a leader in your field, or you'll gain skills that you can later transfer into leadership roles."