This article offers seven rock-solid ways to help you get out of your dead-end job. It is based on personal experience and contains advice I’ve learned from successful people who worked their way up into careers from dead-end jobs.
It was November. I was in the middle of a large Maple tree, pruning limbs and pulling dead branches. I knew this estate well. The pond below with its broken Angel statue. The paths that curled through a grove of Rhododendrons and the old brick wall buried at the back of the rose bushes.
I hated knowing all these details of someone else’s yard. This intimacy with the estate reminded me of just how long I had been doing this dead-end job. I felt like the cliché gardener, growing old in an estate that would never be my own.
That November day, I was listening to a business consultant on my iPod. Every day, I listened to marketing podcasts, trying to train myself into a new job.
This consultant was famous. He travelled the world, wrote books, and gave talks at conferences. I felt disjointed. Here I was up in a Maple tree, listening to concepts they teach in business school. Would I ever actually use any of this marketing stuff? It seemed a world away.
Years later, I now work in marketing. And last week, I had a call with that same consultant I was listening to up in that Maple tree. We are working together on a small project. It’s strange to hear him on the phone as a few years ago I was listening to him talk as in a garden that now feels very far away.
My point is that it seems like it will never end. But it does. There is always an exit. Here are seven ways to help you get out of a dead-end job.
#1 Stop setting impossible deadlines
I used to give myself a month. “30 days James,” I’d announce to myself one rainy morning, “30 days and I’m done.” If you have the financial ability to just quit this might work. But I’m guessing the dead-end job is paying the bills. You need a more realistic timeline. Plan for about four months.
This is why I called my eBook How to Find a Career as a Humanities Major in 126 Days. I wanted readers to not expect a quick fix as it takes time to make the transition.
If you accept a longer timeframe, you will stop waiting for magical solutions to suddenly appear. It takes work and small steps to build a career.
#2 Get half out
Our generation is one of extremes: either we are slaves at the coffee shop or masters of the universe, working at the billion-dollar corporation. We look for full exits, not partial doorways.
My own exit from my dead-end job came first as an unpaid internship. Then a paid internship. Then part-time work two days per week. And then three days per week. Finally, I worked full-time.
Look for part-time work in the field that interests you. Even a few hours a week is progress.
#3 Cut your hours and recognize opportunity cost
I know you are broke and barely surviving right now, but even if you cut your hours from 40 hours to 35 hours per week that gives you five hours per week to learn new skills, search for jobs, and maybe pick up some part-time work elsewhere.
In business there is a concept called “opportunity cost.” If you have a crappy client or contract, you don’t just lose money. You also lose opportunities as you are investing your resources in servicing that bad business. You could be out winning better business and getting a better return for the energy and resources invested.
The same thing with crappy jobs. Every day you go that crappy job, you are missing out on opportunities. This is why cutting your hours down, even if it is only five hours per week, helps you spot other opportunities.
#4 Stop waiting for trumpets
Opportunity doesn’t knock. It asks you a question at a party. Or intrudes on your Saturday with a small freelance job.
Your exit from your dead-end job will not be a sudden jolt. Learn to spot opportunity. Hint: it usually involves a bit of risk, discomfort, and energy on your part.
My own entry into digital marketing paid $5 per article.
#5 Dedicate one day per week
Last week, I toured a client’s business, a large food production facility. They make all types of food products including breads, pastries, buns, and cookies. This is a multi-million dollar business.
How did he get started? A big capital investment? Inherit the family business? Fearless entrepreneurship?
One day, he grew tired of his day job. So he asked an Italian baker if he could intern one day per week. He worked completely free.
After he learned the business, he started a small shop. The rent was high and future uncertain but his product was good and people bought it. Business grew from a shop to a larger facility. He kept growing and now employs over 50 people.
This began by him investing one day per week towards a new direction.
#6 Ignore talent
Success is like a magic trick. When we see success–the hot new start-up or young author making millions–we only see the results, not the work and practice that made it appear.
The media gives us stories like Jon Favreau, who was hired by Obama at 23 to be a speechwriter. In 2009, at the age of 27, he wrote Obama’s inaugural address. Favreau, who looks like a frat boy, famously worked on the speech at his local Starbucks. He likes Red Bull, beer pong, and posting inappropriate images of Hillary Clinton on Facebook. That and he wrote history before his 30th birthday.
Stories of this young speechwriter focus on talent. Talent is the ultimate defence mechanism. We like talent because it says—that person didn’t have to work to succeed. We tell the story of talent because it gives us an excuse. It must have just happened to him, a fated set of events that pulled him along into victory.
Here is what we are missing from stories like these.
What did Obama have to lose in choosing a young speechwriter?
Do you think he hired this kid because he thought it would be cool?
Hey man, you are just out of college, but that’s cool. You can just pick it up as you go! Yeah—I could hire veterans, amazing talents that have won campaigns and worked for famous presidents. But you know what? I’m gonna hire a frat boy because you seem to have some talent and potential!
He hired this young speechwriter because of one reason. Even at 23, Jon Favreau could write a damn good speech. Talent made him good at the job but it didn’t get him the job.
When Favreau met Obama he was already a great writer. The missing piece of the story is the work behind even early success. Before Favreau met Obama, he was already on his way, studying rhetoric and devoting himself to his craft.
Ignore talent and focus on building your skills.
#7 Start the work
The most important part is to start.
Favreau could have waited until he was 25 to start learning how to write speeches. He could have applied for jobs in Washington and then began to learn his craft. But he didn’t.
What is the difference between a 30-year old speechwriter and a 23-year old speechwriter? The answer is: the later probably started learning the craft at 17, rather than 25.
People only hire you for what you CAN do. Obama didn’t take pity on him. He knew he could use his skills. He didn’t train him. He saw talent and ability ready to be used.
People hire you for what you can do.
The final point then is that if you want out of a dead-end job you need to start investing. Invest one day per week in that core skill so that you are ready to grab opportunity when it comes. As Karen Lamb, says, “a year from now you will wish you had started today.”
How to Find a Career With Your Humanities Degree in 126 Days
How to Find a Career With Your Humanities Degree in 126 Days is a 18 week challenge (126 days) where you are shown the exact steps and actions needed to get out of ‘liberal arts career limbo.’
- Popular careers to choose from–and how to get your first start.
- Weekly goals to accelerate your job hunt.
- Practical steps and advice.
The 126 Day challenge begins right where you are—broke, no idea of what you want to do, working a crappy job, and nothing more than a degree on your resume.