What is a Career Plateau?

A career plateau is the point in your career where / when you do not feel any additional upward mobility because there are fewer positions which are either not open or there are more people vying for it. Other reasons could be absence of challenging and satisfying work, or de-motivation due to unfulfilled career expectations.

If you feel stuck at your present job, the time is now to begin the process to get unstuck. Here’s how:


Elementary, Watson – It’s the Process

The first step to carving out a niche path and to jump off the plateau is to plan a coordinated career planning process. You won’t get there if you don’t know where you want to go and how to get there. Spend some time to find out what you want and where you want to go before you jump off (or quit your present job). It is all part of the process – that helps make any transition easier.

Alice: Oh, no, no. I was just wondering if you could help me find my way.
Cheshire Cat: Well that depends on where you want to get to.
Alice: Oh, it really doesn’t matter.
Cheshire Cat: Then it really doesn’t matter which way you go.

The first step in this process is planning the path which gets you closer to your career success or goals. Take a few minutes or even hours to write down the answers to these important questions:

  • Why do I feel stuck in this job?
  • What are the ways I can possibly get unstuck?
  • Are there any alternatives which I have not thought of and someone else can help?
  • Do these clash with my current priorities?
  • How much risk can I or am I willing to take?
  • What if I just took off – what are the possibilities?

Once you answer these questions the mist clears and the path seems more defined than ever before.


What’s in your wallet? What can or must you buy?

Your skills are your most valuable asset. Which skills are in your wallet? You can get/buy as much as you in there.  Time for some careful skills assessment will help accelerate your getting unstuck. Will you need more schooling? Take, for example, a scenario in which you wanted to be a social worker because you love helping people. One simply just doesn’t jump into social work. No, quite the contrary, they have to become certified and perhaps attend school to obtain a degree in social work or some other viable certification. Use your current interests, skills, accomplishments and goals to progress toward greater or new responsibilities.

Awareness of your present and required skill-set and the need to build additional expertise are the two essential steps at this stage. Don’t underestimate either of these – it may be a time consuming exercise to honestly figure out what you have and what needs to be done but it’s all worth the effort.

If money is your hope for independence you will never have it. The only real security that a man will have in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience, and ability. ~Henry Ford


Got Career Focus?

What’s your career focus now? Has it changed or you just feel the need to move on to a role of better responsibility or ‘moving up the ladder’?


Focus on what your current tasks are and how you feel a more challenging or competent job description would satisfy your career aspirations.

Write down your career focus and short-term and long-term career success projection.

Complete these  four statements now to add more about yourself:

  • I am ………
  • I can ……….
  • I want ………
  • I need ………

Be the Change you want to see in your org

Your opportunities for growth are not restricted to promotions; in a highly competitive world it is important to create new positions or opportunities within your organization. That’s upward and outward movement. Don’t rely only on the traditional career paths laid out by your organization, redefining success and creating new opportunities offers you the exciting capacity to new growth potential – something lacking in the day to day routine and the constant weight on your mind that you have reached a plateau! Don’t plan an escape route, define new goals and benchmarks which maximize your contribution to your organization and enrich and best utilize your skills and talent.

Reach out the movers and shakers of your org and put forward any new plans or trends that can make your company more profitable or competitive in today’s market – show them that this what your new role can offer. Examples say more than a 500 page report – get out there and be the change.

If you run you stand a chance of losing, but if you don’t run you’ve already lost. ~ Barack Obama


ASK and you shall GET

Getting out of a plateau often needs some motivation or inspiration. This is the step where some mentoring might benefit you.  Know any ‘been-there-done-that’s, your career idols or those you inspire you? Seek them out ask for advice – it’s often the best way to KNOW how they did that and how their experience can inspire you to do better.

Career experts, coaches and counselors can be an excellent companion on your way to a career transition since they can offer some unbiased assistance that can accelerate your career progression.

If it’s free, it’s advice; if you pay for it, it’s counseling; if you can use either one, it’s a miracle. ~ Jack Adams


If you do not change, you can become extinct

Don’t be on the plateau for too long, in this competitive world remaining stagnant is not an option, you either move on or you’re shoved off. “Movement in new direction helps find new cheese.” If you find no other way that you can feel satisfied – laterally or upwards – it is time to move on. Knowing when to move can be a smart move if you do not see your goals being fulfilled in the present organization. However give it a fair try before you do so. You might want to do your fair share of research in current and evolving industries in your area of expertise.

Hone your informational interviews skills, and reach out to those in your network who are there where you want to be. Your expectations of a particular position might not match with the reality – informational interviews offer this very insight before you make a decision. Tapping your network efficiently is essential to know how to get there.


“What would you do if you weren’t’ afraid?” ― Spencer Johnson in Who Moved My Cheese?


Note to the Employers:

What is needed that organizations must have an ongoing versatile career management program which offers assistance on various levels – career plateau is one of the most frustrating and de-motivating time in one’s career and if you want to retain top talent to – get a genuine strategy in place which works for employees at various levels.


Question: Have you been on a career plateau or felt stuck in a job? What helped you overcome and get unstuck?