Career Doctor: How to Deal With Career Burnout

By Katherine Spencer Lee | May 2007


Dice is pleased to introduce a new monthly IT career column, Ask the IT Career Doctor, with Katherine Spencer Lee, Executive Director of Robert Half Technology. Robert Half Technology is a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. Once per month, Katherine will respond to an IT career-related question from a Dice reader. This month, she responds to an IT professional who supports an ERP system that is being phased out.

Question:
I have been working in IT for more than 18 years. I am afraid that my routine is getting stale. How do I remain engaged and involved when I have been doing the same thing for so long?

Katherine Lee Spencer responds:
Career burnout is a phenomenon many IT professionals face. Once they’ve reached a certain level of career success and experience, people may find themselves at a crossroads, feeling vaguely disengaged or uninspired.

Your first step should be to evaluate your overall attitude toward your work. Consider:

  • Do you still have a passion for IT?
  • Do you get excited when new products are released?
  • Do you read technology publications, blogs and message boards regularly?
  • Do you enjoy talking with friends in your spare time about new developments in technology?

Battling the Blahs

If your enthusiasm has cooled, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time for a radical career change. Small adjustments to your current routine or a fresh challenge may be enough to stimulate you. Start by pinpointing what you dislike about your current job. Then, try to identify ways to make it more exciting – perhaps it’s shifting your focus to a different area of IT. If installing upgrades has become wearisome, for example, what about examining business needs to determine where upgrades are required?

Taking on different responsibilities or enrolling in a training course in a technology that’s new to you also are effective methods of remaining engaged in your work.

Moving On

If changes to your current job don¿t rekindle your passion, you may need to make a bigger change. Remember that you have a lot of valuable experience to leverage in today’s market. Companies with growing IT needs know they have to compete aggressively for experienced candidates. A small IT department at a fast-growing company might open up broader responsibilities and opportunities for you. If you find yourself unable to jump-start your drive for IT work, consider a new industry. That doesn’t mean forcing yourself into an alien environment where you’ll be starting from scratch. Instead, ask yourself what existing skills you can leverage to launch a career in a different field. If you enjoy training others, for example, teaching at a community college or becoming a corporate trainer might be options worth pursuing. If your skills don¿t point you in a certain direction, think about jobs or industries you considered pursuing before your IT career took off.

Stay Connected

Isolation is a common cause of many career ruts – when you’re not getting feedback or a sense of perspective from others, it’s easy for minor frustrations to snowball. And it’s often not enough to commiserate with longtime friends and coworkers.

So go out of your way to meet new people, even those outside of the IT industry. Join a networking group or other forum where you can talk to people in similar situations. How have they escaped their own career doldrums? Often, simply knowing that you’re not alone in your feelings can help you overcome them. And, of course, you also could meet people who can alert you to new opportunities with greater appeal.

Back to Your Future

One last recommendation: Take some time to look back at your career, noting accomplishments, contributions and gestures of appreciation you’ve received (both official and informal). Over your 18 years, you likely have many things you can be proud of. Reminding yourself where you’ve been – especially the most satisfying points and toughest challenges – is the best way to start figuring out where you want to go next.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in North America, Europe and Asia.

One Response to “Career Doctor: How to Deal With Career Burnout”

  1. Author says: “If installing upgrades has become wearisome, for example, what about examining business needs to determine where upgrades are required?”

    Man, nothing like one of those inspirational speakers that is completely out of touch with the Information Technology profession. Yeah right, I’ll asses your company’s IT needs but I’m NOT doing the installs…. It’s a career change thingy I’m doing. hahaha

    Author writes: “Take some time to look back at your career, noting accomplishments, contributions and gestures of appreciation you’ve received (both official and informal).”

    That is your advice?; “note your accomplishments”, geee, what astonishing insight, damn, you are a clever one. Are you going to tell me to “pause, and take a deep breath” as well, that would really be the icing on the cake!