Make the most of a dead-end job

Make the most of a dead-end job

This article was written by La Trobe employability expert, Rita Soares. It originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse and is shared on Nest with Rita’s permission.

I was recently talking to a friend who had taken up a new role within her company. After the initial days of excitement, she realised she had made a terrible mistake: ‘I think I should have stayed in my old position’, she told me, looking despondent.

Her new job was not what she had anticipated. She told me about the incessant workload, lack of training and support, old-fashioned processes, and toxic office atmosphere.

She couldn’t go back to her old position, as it had been filled, and she didn’t want to quit this new job so soon after starting. She was stuck, hating her current situation and having no idea about how to escape to a better job.

I didn’t know how to comfort her. All I could do was to think about my own moments of job dissatisfaction and the lessons they had taught me. I told my friend that, if she didn’t want to quit now, she had to identify what she could learn from this job.

She had to start thinking about how she could make the most of her current situation until something better came along. ‘And how do I make the most of this dead-end job?’ she asked me.

Look at the people around you

Ok, your job sucks, but can you learn anything from your colleagues? Is there someone who has a good technique for managing his workload and time? What about finally learning how to mail merge from Jenny?

I once worked in a data entry job where the work was lifeless and there were no prospects for career movement. However, I always loved listening to Silvia, the lady who sat next to me.

Silvia had a great sense of humour, intercepting the dull hum of the office with her funny remarks. She also had fantastic interpersonal skills: she was a good communicator and genuinely charismatic with everyone she interacted with.

The data entry role didn’t teach me much, but the time I spent with Silvia taught me a lot about people skills.

Sometimes the things you learn are not directly linked to your career, but don’t discard these opportunities. The same data entry job started my love affair with gardening.

One day, I noticed a new hire eating fresh broad beans in the kitchen. I asked where she had bought them, and she told me she had grown them herself from seed.

‘Really? I didn’t know you could grow broad beans so easily! How did you get started?’ Our chat was the beginning of my gardening hobby and sustainable lifestyle change.

She gave me valuable information about how to start a small vegetable garden, where to buy seeds, which vegetables to try first and so on. Most of all, she inspired me to try something completely new. I never saw that lady again, but she had a truly enriching impact in my life.

I now grow a lot of produce from seed and I am very proud to say I can make my own compost. Who would have thought I would have gained so much from a data entry job?

Look at the tasks

I understand you absolutely abhor this position, but are there any tasks you can leverage for your next career move?

Perhaps you thought the job involved business development, but here you are stuck behind a desk typing up reports for your manager. Rather than wasting your energy getting angry, think about making the most of your current job tasks.

Can you gain a better understanding of the industry and market threats from the reports? Are there any current activities or experiences in your job that could be the key for your next career move? Think about solutions, not problems.

When I worked as careers consultant for a university, I met an alumnus who had been successful in obtaining a very competitive consulting job with a global telecom company.

I asked him how he developed the experience and confidence to work in the competitive business world, coming from a family with no business exposure. He proudly told me he had done all sorts of things, but the job that taught him the most was telemarketing.

It was tough to be on the phone all night trying to reach sale targets. He coped abuse, terrible pay and stressed managers. However, he realised his awful job was in the industry of his interest.

‘Besides’ he told me, ‘when you have to ring someone in the middle of the night to sell telecommunications services, you learn very quickly about asking the right questions that elicit a response’, he told me.

‘So many of my peers waited months, and then years, for a glamorous job to come along. I took that my telemarketing job knowing it wasn’t going to be for my whole life. I just had to learn something from it.’

Look at yourself

I met Rosa when she was working as a receptionist for a busy medical centre in the suburbs. She was a smart girl who really wanted to be her own boss, but had no idea about what she could do.

She had been working for demanding doctors who didn’t appreciate her work. Rosa knew though that she had something valuable to offer and she stayed positive. She chatted with the sales reps that visited the clinic, listened to what the patients complained about as they waited for the doctors, and noticed what was missing in that environment.

Over time, she learned that she loved providing a good experience for the patients, beyond what doctors and surgeons could do. She enrolled in a weekend massage course, out of curiosity, and that gave her the spark she needed. Rosa realised that she could run a space that was nurturing for patients.

Fast track a few years, and she now owns and operates a holistic health centre, where massage and other allied therapies are provided. She has top-notch skills in business management, administration and patient service and her health centre is thriving.

I wonder if Rosa would have ended up being a successful business owner had she not had the experience of working as a  receptionist for a medical clinic.