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January 30, 2020


5 business career traps (and how to overcome them).

A businessman stands on a road that leads straight to a concrete wall.

Career stagnation happens. Even the most proactive and seasoned business vet gets stuck in a career trap, unable to advance to the next level or find the passion they once had for their industry. But luckily, business is a big and ever-changing field, and there are many ways to grow, adjust, and pivot to a rewarding position—maybe even a bigger paycheck.

Here are some of the most common career traps—and some tips on how to overcome each and take your career in a better direction.

1. You've become too generalized.

Do you ever feel like you can't pinpoint your specialty? Having strong general business knowledge and experience—say, understanding the strategic, financial, and operational fundamentals of business—is crucial to career success. But if you only focus on gaining general experience, you might find yourself lost in a sea of business job candidates who share the same background.

Further Reading: Career switching: 3 potential business roles.

To stand out, embrace your general skills and apply them to the niche that you're interested in or passionate about, whether it's marketing, human resources, accounting, management, or whatever. Gain certifications in that area, become a member of a field-specific organization, or earn a degree in the field. Narrowing your business focus will help you build your résumé and set yourself apart.

2. You've become too specialized.

Sometimes businesspeople have the opposite problem: they're so specialized that their résumé pertains to only a fraction of available jobs. If you feel stuck in your current business career and don't see a lot of jobs like yours out there, you might have specialized too much—or your current role might be going obsolete.

If this is the case, consider earning a master's in business administration. An MBA helps you hone the general skills in strategy, management, and business that you learned in your bachelor's program, and it allows you to focus your attention on the business areas that employers want in today's job market. When combined with your specialized expertise, an MBA signals to employers that you have the perfect balance of general knowledge and specific experience.

3. You're lacking opportunities for growth.

This one can be frustrating, especially if you like your current job. There are lots of reasons that people run out of room to grow at a job. Sometimes it's a matter of running out of rungs on the job ladder at a small company. Other times, it's a company that doesn't offer professional development opportunities or is in a hiring freeze.

Knowing when to move on to a new employer is a crucial skill. If you're spinning your wheels and craving new development opportunities, it's likely time to find a new gig. If you want growth opportunities, higher pay, or more responsibilities, don't be afraid to look for them in other places. The strong relationship you've built with your current employer will only help you on the job market.

If changing roles isn't feasible, consider investing in certifications, training, or degrees that will boost your résumé and your spirit. Talk to your boss about funding group development courses. The Muse recommends networking internally to learn from those who have advanced or moved laterally in the organization. Building these connections can lead to fruitful experiences and opportunities for development and career advancement.

4. You can't find opportunities in your area.

Maybe IT management jobs are booming in your area because a couple of tech giants have recently moved to town. That's great news—except you work in healthcare management. This situation can make you feel trapped.

If you're struggling to find new opportunities in your area, you have a few options. You could move to a new area with better job opportunities. But if relocating isn't an option, you could try to find a company that supports telecommuting. Global Workplace Analytics reports that remote work has increased 91 percent over the past 10 years, saving companies operating costs and boosting employee morale. If you find yourself out of brick-and-mortar opportunities where you live, look for organizations that offer the chance to work remotely.

Alternatively, apply to an online university to increase your skills, develop new ones, and gain experience through a flexible program. WGU's programs allow you to work full time in your area and complete your coursework on your own schedule, finishing courses when you've mastered the material. Online schooling or remote work opportunities might be the spark you need to reignite your career.

5. You want to change careers but don't know how.

It's never too late to make a change—big or small—in your career. Sometimes people find themselves yearning for a new role or industry, but they don't know how to make the switch.

If this sounds like you, start by outlining your areas of interest. Do you love managing teams? Are you energized by creative projects? Are you motivated by giving presentations? Taking inventory of your interests and strengths can help you determine where you can best apply them. If you find leading teams rewarding, a career switch to a management role might be right for you. If you love finding the right person for a project, you might like human resources.

After you've determined the career you want, you'll need to figure out what kind of experience or credentials you need to make the switch. A move from sales to health information management, for example, might require you to earn a bachelor's degree and bone up on your IT skills.

Finding your motivation.

Career traps can be frustrating, but they don't have to last forever. If you're feeling stuck in your career, try writing your goals down on paper then noting the steps you need to take to achieve those goals. Figuring out a plan of action can be the first—and most motivating—step in your career development.

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