5 signs your career is stuck in a rut

Think you’ve hit a dead end? Here’s how to tell—and what you can do to pick yourself up.

5 signs your career is stuck in a rut

These are the signs of career stagnation.

If you hate your job, it’s a pretty clear sign that you need to find a new one. That being said, every person’s career has a lull period or two. Knowing how to tell if you’re stuck in a rut is what’s crucial.

“There are ebbs and flows in everyone’s career,” says Jodi Glickman, career coach and author of Great on the Job. “Everyone has parts of their job that they don’t like. Sometimes we’re working on a crappy project. Sometimes we’re working with a bad client. But I think there should always be a portion of your work that you enjoy doing and find rewarding.”

Here’s the good news: A record-high 34% of U.S. employees are actively engaged at their jobs, according to Gallup’s annual engagement survey. Yet that still leaves the remaining 53% of workers in the "not engaged" category.

As Glickman pointed out, though, there’s a big difference between hitting a natural slowdown and an actual career rut. Need a little help with that? Here are five telltale signs of career stagnation. 

1. You no longer feel challenged

“In a knowledge economy, which is the economy that we live in, if you’re not continually pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone, you’re going to become obsolete or irrelevant because the world moves very fast,” Glickman says.

Maybe you’ve been doing the same tasks for too long, or maybe you’ve outgrown your role. Whatever the reason is, if you feel like you’re just coasting along, you need to ask yourself why you’re bored. “Depending on your position, you may be able to create new challenges for yourself in your current role,” says Chicago-based career coach Judi Lansky.

2. Your performance has plateaued

Pay close attention to feedback you receive from your boss, especially during performance reviews. If you’re consistently only “meeting expectations,” you’re not growing in your career, says career and life coach Anna S.E. Lundberg. “Is that how you want to live your life? Sort of average, things plodding along but with no passion, no excitement, no real feeling of fulfillment?” Lundberg says. (The answer to those questions should be a definitive "no.")

3. Your salary has flatlined

In an ideal world, you’d be getting a fat salary increase every year. But here’s the cold-hard reality: Not everyone who deserves a raise gets one, says Robin Pinkley, management professor at Southern Methodist University and co-author of Get Paid What You’re Worth. It could be your fault if you’re among the almost two thirds (63%) of workers who have never asked for a raise, a recent PayScale survey found.

But regardless of why your salary has flatlined, if you haven’t received a raise in more than two years, that's cause for alarm. “If your salary is not keeping up with inflation, you’re getting screwed,” Glickman says. “If new hires are making more than you, that’s another reason to be worried.”

4. It’s been 4+ years since your last promotion

Reality check: If you’ve been in the same position for that long with no promotion, then it’s probably not going to come, which is a sure indicator that your career is stuck in a rut. Nonetheless, if you’ve been passed over for a bigger title that you feel you’ve earned, you need to figure out why you didn't get it, says Whitney Johnson, author of Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work.

Perhaps your boss doesn’t know you’re interested in moving to a new position, or maybe you need to learn a new skill or two to climb to the next step on the ladder. This calls for a frank conversation with the person above you to find out exactly what it would take to get ahead. If you found out that there’s no opportunity for growth, you need to move on, Johnson advises.

5. You’re excluded from important meetings

Are you being left out of meetings you used to be part of? That’s a red flag. “The fact that you’re being excluded means you’re not being involved with making key decisions, which is always a bad sign,” Lansky explains.

Similarly, if you’re not being tapped to work with important clients that you used to work with in the past, you need to find out why you’re getting brushed off. It may be because your employer needs to put your skills to use on something else, or it could mean you’re slowly getting phased out of your job, in which case you’d want to start looking for a new gig pronto.

Shake things up

When you’re in the wrong job, you owe it to yourself to make a change. So if you have a passion you’ve been dreaming of following for years, now may be the time to make it a reality. Could you use some help taking the first step? Join Monster for free todayAs a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to the types of jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Additionally, you can get job alerts sent directly to your inbox to cut down on time spent looking through ads. Monster can help you shake things up.