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Know when to fold ’em at dead-end job

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in Career Management,Workplace Communication

Question: "I have worked as an administrative assistant for seven years with the same boss. I have constantly asked for more responsibilities, as I feel I could do more—I'll be graduating with my master's degree in December. My boss seems to just brush my request off. At what point should I start seeking opportunities elsewhere?" - Natarsha, Administrative Assistant

We reached out to some experts about how to recognize a dead-end job and how to know when it’s time to cut your losses.

"Some people waste years of talent in a dead-end job without ever seeing the signs they were in a dead-end job," says career strategist and human resources blogger Toni Howard Lowe. Signs include:

  • Not feeling challenged or passionate about what you do.
  • Hitting a glass ceiling that re­­stricts your advancement.
  • Seeing no opportunity to grow.
  • Watching the company sink financially.

When you have reached a stage where you have acquired all the skills, knowledge, relationships and personal development that a job has to offer, then it’s time to look at outside opportunities, says career coach Katherine Street. If you’ve tried to make changes to no avail, this is a key sign that it’s time to move on, Street says. It’s vital, however, that you move on to something that will give you an opportunity to grow and develop skills and knowledge.

“Often people who feel they are in a dead-end job will move on to anything, and, for a little while, as they learn the new job it feels re­ward­­ing, but this will soon fade if they have merely swapped one dead-end job for another,” she says. The individual needs to identify the areas where they want to grow and only accept a new role that will give them that development, she says.  “Other­­wise they will become serial dead-enders.”

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Margarita Verdejo November 6, 2015 at 1:49 pm

I was in a dead end job for 15 years! I finally had the guts to move on. Is not easy, especially after so many years in one organization. I grew up with the place! But if they won’t recognize my skills and how much I’ve grown professionally, why bother? I felt belittled and condescended. It was like having a bad relationship……you hope for the best and change because you love your significant other, but you know deep down there will be nothing. Is just time to move on. Trust me, is not that bad out there. With experience, it holds just much weight as a degree. I hope you come out and truly feel appreciated by what the world offers.


Sharon November 6, 2015 at 12:57 pm

I’m in the same position and meeting with the future CFO of the company today about where I stand. It’s a frustrating position to be in, but please realize that no matter how it turns out, you’ve put forth a great amount of effort to improve yourself and should be commended for that! The advice given in the comments above is well worth taking. Best of luck to you,


Nancy Marks November 6, 2015 at 9:22 am

As Bianca [Hi there!] and others have said, Start NOW!
You can press your boss further by explaining that, based on your experience and your degree, you are serious about pursuing additional responsibilities and an increase in salary and that if there are no in-house opportunities you will be moving on. Say it and mean it! If the boss is supportive but can’t help you directly, ask for references (written and as someone a hiring committee can call).
If stating your intent to leave will be an issue, then that’s one more reason to go! Get professional references from those who support you and launch your search off company time. Use all your networking opportunities and be Confident! You are worth it!!


Vickie November 20, 2015 at 11:49 am

Hi Nancy. I am not sure I agree with telling your boss you will be leaving if they have no in-house opportunities. Yes, I would speak with my boss to make sure he/she knows I am serious, but I would never tell them I would leave. That is something you should keep to yourself until your find another opportunity and ready to put in a notice. Otherwise, you could be out sooner than expected.


Diane November 5, 2015 at 5:20 pm

You’re getting a master’s degree, so it sounds like you’re almost beyond what’s needed for an administrative assistant. Start applying somewhere else AND in your field of study. It was great that you were able to study while working, but if your boss doesn’t see your potential especially with your almost acquired degree, then someone else will be thanking their lucky stars that you decided to come to them. Seven years is a long time with someone, and you have grown throughout that time. Do not regret that you spent seven years there and that you probably won’t be spending more time there. It’s time to look forward and to an upcoming challenge. Good luck!


Rita November 5, 2015 at 4:41 pm

Start applying for a position in your field of study, NOW. December isn’t that far away and on your resume just put your projected graduation date. 7 years is a long time, but you need to use that degree you have worked so hard for! All things must end, and you will be putting yourself forward with new opportunities, new people to meat and make new friends. It is always easiest to get a job when you are already employed. I would not delay. Personally I wouldn’t say anything about leaving until you have a firm offer and then put in your 2 weeks notice.


Donna November 5, 2015 at 4:33 pm

I would start looking now. First, you’ll need to get a feel for your local job market and applying for jobs can take a lot of work and research (searching for a job is a job itself). Second, it would be helpful when you walk into your ‘dream job’ interviews to have recent experience being interviewed. Third, if you are a strong fit for a particular job there’s a chance that a new employer may hire you before you obtain your degree (a slight chance but the door won’t open if you don’t grab the ****). So really, the sooner you start looking, the better. Good luck on your job search!


Cathy November 5, 2015 at 4:28 pm

I’ve worked as an Admin Assistant/Assistant to the V.P of a small company for 11 years now. I never asked for more responsibility – I saw what needed done or organized or filed, etc. and took the initiative to do those things on my own. I think because of that, over time, the bosses added responsibilities to my job so I never felt the need to ask for any. Have you seen a niche and took the initiative to do the work? Have you asked specifically to be able to do certain projects or jobs? If you just go in and ask generically for more responsibility, I see that could be a problem. If you ask to do or be part of specific jobs or projects, you might get a better response. Also, is your Master’s degree something that would benefit the company? If not, it may be time to start looking for a job in whatever field your degree is in.


Victoria November 5, 2015 at 4:24 pm


Thank you for presenting your situation. I also find myself in a similar situation wherein I actually left a position that I held for nearly 10 years as an Senior Administrative Assistant. My boss was a SAINT, however, I left to cut down on the 4 hour a day travel time to and from work. Now, nearly 6 months later, I find myself stuck in an Executive Assistant position with little to almost no work (i.e. no typing, filing, etc.) and yes it pays more money. However, I am dying of boredom and feel myself missing my old position. I have spoken with my new employer about this situation and she admitted that she would try to send work my way. However, all I am doing is scheduling occasional meetings and once a month expenses. I’m kicking myself here…

Best of luck…Victoria


Vickie November 20, 2015 at 11:44 am

Hi Victoria. I know about being in jobs where you are bored out of your mind. Fortunately, I have moved on from that position, but people do not understand how hard it is to stay checked in at work when there is nothing to do. When I would complain to my family, they would say “read a magazine or read a book”. Yeah, I am not sure that would have looked good for a Finance Director to be thumbing through a magazine or reading a book on company time. Anyway, as far as your situation, I would not go back to that commute. That is too far to drive. Put in a reasonable amount of time on this job so you don’t look like a job hopper and then find something else close to your home. Good luck.


Dee November 5, 2015 at 4:22 pm

I was in the same position before I decided to leave. I was asking for about 3 years; I kept getting promises and then the disappointing, there is nothing in the budget right now. I was not even really looking for a promotion, just something that made me feel like my day was worth coming in. I could do my job in my sleep and I was bored stiff. I tried the transfer to another area in the company when positions opened and even tried to get one created in a new department, but once they spoke to my boss, all talks stopped. Guessing he did not want to lose me. I finally made the decision to move on as I knew there would be no changes, guess he lost me after all. Much happier, and learning so many more things. Good luck with your decision, it is not an easy one to make.


Lynne November 5, 2015 at 4:21 pm

I agree with both Mark and Bianca. Congratulations on all your hard work you should be very proud. After all that time you have every right to want more out of your job. My boss is the same way. I’ve already made up my mind to leave. I’ve been very direct in saying I want more responsibilities and ignored. I wish you the best of luck, your next employer will be very lucky to have you.


Kristi November 5, 2015 at 4:19 pm

Mark made very good points. The boss may not have as much education as you have which may intimidate him/her. Also, often bosses see an employee in one role and don’t work to promote good help because it means they have to replace an excellent worker. I too recommend completing your Master’s and then apply elsewhere. When you are looking at other employment opportunities check to see if advancements are routine within the organization or agency. You don’t to find yourself in this position going forward. Good Luck!


Bianca Constance November 5, 2015 at 4:08 pm

Your executive is obviously not interested in a ‘new and improved’ you so take your show on the road. That said, start your search right now. The job market is not exactly hot at the moment and it may take you several months to find a new position. Good luck! You will find a company that is eager for your skills and your desire to do more.


Mark November 5, 2015 at 12:03 pm

I would do so in January, after you have the degree. I think you have done what you could, which is being direct and asking your boss for more responsibilities. Too many take to the indirect route and hint around that they want to do more, or mention it to those who are not in the position to do anything about it. If you have point blank asked for more responsibilities (as opposed to hinting) and your requests are repeatedly been ignored, I think leaving is one of only two options. The other is to explore the opportunity to transfer elsewhere within your organization, if that is an option. Many companies are too small for that, or seldom have turnover to allow for that, so it might not be a possibility. But I would definitely wait until you have the Master’s. Saying “I am about to get my Master’s” doesn’t carry nearly the same weight as saying, “I have a Master’s”.


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