4 obvious signs you’ve outgrown your job – and what to do about it

4 obvious signs you've outgrown your job and what to do about it

No matter how passionate we may be about our job, it’s unlikely to feel constantly and completely happy at work. Burnout, poor work-life balance, and the rising cost of living make it hard to maintain motivation and enthusiasm.

While it’s normal to have the slump of feeling bored or complacent about your job, if this feeling persists for an extended period, it could signal that you’ve outgrown your current role.

Erica Hatfield, a career coach, senior HR professional, registered psychologist and founder and CEO of Hummingbird Careers, explained that people often instinctively know when it’s time for a change.

“We may deny it or try to ignore it – but deep down we know,” she said.

Stagnancy or ‘the devil we know’ can feel preferable to the uncertainty of making a career change, and many feel frustrated by not knowing where to start.

As stressful as change can be, Hatfield encourages women to also see it as an exciting time for self-discovery and exploration.

“Sometimes in our comfort zones, our world can shrink a little, but when you start to look at changing things up, that’s where it gets interesting as you tend to reach out into new areas and meet new people and learn new things,” she said.

Women face more complex barriers to making career changes

Hatfield specialises in helping working parents manage career challenges and progression. She said ensuring flexibility can be one of the biggest hurdles when considering a career change.

Flexibility is crucial in enabling a return to work while parenting. Still, it can also create a sense of feeling ‘stuck’ in a job that is no longer ideal for fear that the same flexibility won’t be available elsewhere.

“Flexibility can also be career limiting – especially at the upper levels,” said Hatfield.

“Many women with families choose to work part-time, but there are not as many part-time senior roles to support career progression.”

“The Workplace Gender Equality Agency points to a ‘promotion cliff’ for part-time workers with data indicating whilst 21 per cent of employees work part-time, only seven per cent of managers are employed part-time.

“Even more worrying for career prospects is that the share of managers working part-time drops with seniority: just five percent of key management personnel and three per cent of CEOs work part-time.”

The promotion cliff for flexible and part-time work creates a situation where progression is limited, regardless of talent, without working full-time. Hatfield stressed the importance of workplaces rethinking how leadership roles can be reshaped to allow part-time and other flexible work arrangements to shine.

“This is in everyone’s best interests as Australian research has found a strong causal link between greater diversity, such as an increase in women leaders, and subsequent improvements in company performance.”

4 telltale signs you’ve outgrown your job

Not sure if you’ve outgrown your job? Here are some obvious signs:

1. You could do your job with your eyes closed

Basically, you’re on autopilot, cruising through well-worn territory with no new challenges to keep things interesting.

There’s a delicate balance between feeling overwhelmed by your workload and perpetually bored. Few jobs offer daily excitement and novelty, but if you’re constantly craving a challenge, it’s a good indicator that change is needed.

2. You’re no longer learning

Hatfield said that if there’s no stretch in your role and your skill set stagnates, you may have outgrown your job.

Relying on the same suite of capabilities for extended periods is dull and potentially risky in a professional world characterised by constant evolution and a need to keep updating your resume and skills.

Being forced to acquire new areas of expertise is daunting, but it’s also the best way to ensure you can keep progressing in your career.

3. You’ve lost interest

“The role that may have once energised you now leaves you cold or, worse still, drains your energy,” said Hatfield.

“You put in the bare minimum, can’t wait to finish work for the day, and your focus is elsewhere.”

Staying in a role you’ve outgrown can start to create feelings of resentment, frustration, or even anger about your job, leading to a toxic cycle of low motivation and even poor physical long-term health outcomes.

4. You know you can do more

Perhaps your current role was intended to be a stepping stone to bigger and better things, but suddenly, it’s been years, and you know you’ve become stagnant.

Hatfield explained that if you know that you were meant for bigger things and could do those things now, it’s a good idea to start planning to shake things up.

Erica Hatfield

Erica Hatfield, career coach and registered psychologist.

How to make a change

If you’ve experienced signs that your job is no longer a good fit, there are some practical steps you can take to start building momentum toward a more fulfilling career.

Get clear on what work means in the broader context of your life

Hatfield recommends first clarifying how work fits into your life.

“You may not need to make any changes; you just need to be clear on what work means to you right now and what it enables,” she said.

If you’re overloaded in other areas, like childcare or buying a house, a less demanding role may indeed be the right fit for the moment. Knowing that you want a change in the future doesn’t mean you have to take drastic action immediately. You can create opportunities, however small, for professional growth without quitting altogether.

“It may be as simple as letting your manager know what your interests are and to keep you in mind for projects or opportunities in those areas,” said Hatfield.

“You could also connect with people within your current workplace who are subject matter experts in areas you’re interested in and ask for a chat to learn more.”

Explore opportunities within your current organisation

If you know that you want to make a bigger change now, Hatfield recommends going for quicker wins first by assessing what progression options exist in your current workplace. You could book a meeting with your manager to discuss your skills and interests, and seek advice or feedback on potential future roles.

Create an actionable plan to help you get there if a suitable progression path is available. Seek support from your HR department and manager, such as financial support to enrol in courses or granting study time during work hours to bridge any skills gaps you need to land your next role. If formal education isn’t an option, remember that on-the-job learning can be just as valuable, and ask about potential project work, secondments, or taking on higher duties.

“Next, it’s time to check your company’s internal jobs board,” said Hatfield.

“Speak to people who are currently doing the roles you’re keen on to get insights into the real day-to-day of the job, and speak to the hiring managers to see if they think you’d be a good fit or can offer you advice on what you need to do to be considered a strong candidate.”

Prepare to re-enter the external job market

If your current workplace can’t offer you the progression you need, it may be time to look elsewhere, but not without doing adequate preparation beforehand.

“Before you hit the job market, make sure you are clear on what you’re looking for, have an updated resume and a generic cover letter that you can tailor for each application,” said Hatfield.

“When you land that job interview, make sure you prepare some great answers to the typical questions and practice them, either out loud alone or with a friend, so you’re ready to go. You don’t want your first interview to be your very first practice run!”

Hatfield also advises thinking about your career goals beyond the job description, including meaningful work and a connection to your future company’s purpose and values.

“For some of the women I coach, having a strong connection to the company purpose and values can make all the difference,” she said.

Contributing to a cause that matters to you can be a great motivator and can boost your performance. This can help you advance further in your career than in a job you do solely for the pay and conditions.

Embrace (some) uncertainty

You should always do your due diligence before quitting a job, but Hatfield warns against waiting until the ever-elusive ‘perfect moment’ to seek new opportunities.

“At the end of the day, making a change is basically making a best guess and taking a leap of faith – you won’t ever know exactly how it will work out until you’re in it,” she said.

Try to find peace with your decision, irrespective of the outcome, and trust in your ability to meet any challenges that will come.

Emma Lennon

Emma Lennon

Emma Lennon is a passionate writer, editor and community development professional. With over ten years’ experience in the disability, health and advocacy sectors, Emma is dedicated to creating work that highlights important social issues.