Because my work takes me from company to company and person to person, I get to see both the ups (career win!) and the downs (career setback). I have also seen committed and talented professionals turn setbacks into wins.
Spring often ushers in performance review season, and I posted in Forbes about preparing for a bad performance review – what to do if you have underperformed in the last few months and are expecting some tough feedback. But what if you don’t have a performance review to worry about, or you just feel like you’re off your game and want to bounce back. The ideal strategy for recovering from a career setback will depend on what the particular difficulty is. Here are five questions to ask yourself to help diagnose and fix your career problem:
Do you need to update your skills?
If your performance is falling behind, it could be that the market is more challenging, and you haven’t kept your skills competitive. One company I worked with switched technology platforms, which impacted finance, HR, sales, and almost every other department. There was no way around updating each worker’s skill set for the ins and outs of the new platform but also for the best practices in their individual roles.
What has changed at your company? Do you need to update your skills to meet the new challenge? Your company might offer in-house training, or you may have to build your own professional development plan.
Are you flexing to your current situation?
Your skills might be fine but you may need to adjust them to a new situation. If you are newly promoted to management, you may have some blind spots hurting your leadership performance. Even if you are an experienced manager, but your team has grown or changed, you may not be flexing your management style to your new team.
What has changed in your role? Do you need to coach more from the sidelines or be more directly hands-on? Do you need to focus on relationships outside your immediate area if your work has grown more cross-functional?
Are you nearing burnout?
Maybe you’re doing fine in the company’s eyes, but you don’t feel fine. You have a strong performance review but don’t feel good about your work or about going to work. Before you quit your job, which is an extreme solution to the problem of burnout, experiment with some smaller changes like refocusing your day-to-day activities to do more of what you enjoy and other suggestions I posted in Forbes.
Is there a career setback in the eyes of others or just yourself? If you can maintain your performance, even if your morale is low, you buy yourself some time to adjust your situation. You may still fall back in love with your job, or you can find ways to change it enough so that your personal feeling doesn’t impact your professional performance.
Do you need support?
One of the critical ingredients for bouncing back from a bad performance review is support from your manager. You will need your manager to maintain an open mind so your performance has a chance to improve. You also may need your manager’s coaching, training, or advocacy to upper management. In addition, you may need help from your mentor, colleagues, and other key people in your network.
Have you identified where you need help outside of yourself? Who is available?
Is the solution outside of your workplace?
Finally, a career setback may be your wake-up call that you need to do something different. Your performance is suffering, and you don’t care that much about bringing it back. You can see the company moving in a different direction, and you’re not that interested in keeping up with the new knowledge and skills you’ll need.
Sometimes we just outgrow the career we have and need to make a change. To get a better sense of what you might enjoy better, I recommend my 100 Dreams exercise. I had so many travel-related dreams on my list that it sparked a whole new direction for me.
If the upcoming performance review season reveals that your career is stalling rather than moving forward, you can absolutely turn it around. Start with the above five questions to get a sense of what the problem might be, and then address that specific issue. Something went wrong but not everything about you is wrong! I have seen many professionals bounce back from a stuck job search or move from one career to a new one more suitable. How about you? What moves will you make to get your career back on track?