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Reclaiming Your Career: How to Take Control When You Feel Overlooked at Work

Have you ever felt that dreaded sense of being sidelined at your job? That feeling where it seems your manager has put you on the back burner while they explore all other options? That you've been overlooked despite feeling like it's your time to shine? It happens to the best of us, no matter the job. In fact, this disappointing predicament recently prompted comedian Roy Wood Jr. to depart from his role as a Daily Show correspondent.

You see, when Trevor Noah's exit presented an opportunity for a new host, Wood was considered a viable candidate. But as weeks turned into months without a decision, he found himself in career limbo — putting his dreams on hold while Comedy Central tried out a series of hosts, even those with no previous connection to the show. As the network prolonged its search, Wood had a choice to make. Should he stay and wait it out or was it time to go? Ultimately,Wood made the courageous decision to step down, leaving the show he’d been a part of for eight years, and actively pursue fresh opportunities rather than remain undervalued.

Wood’s story will resonate with countless employees whose careers have plateaued, who feel their hard work is going unnoticed, or who are stuck waiting for their chance to shine. It’s natural to feel discouraged, resentful, and powerless when your employer doesn’t recognize your potential. However, like Wood, you have the power to take control of your career trajectory.

Here are six impactful steps to make it happen:

1. Reconnect with Your Professional Aspirations
Be real with yourself — is your current role truly aligned with your career goals and ambitions? Or have you outgrown the possibilities and potential for growth in your position? Take time to thoughtfully list out your goals and objectively evaluate whether they realistically match up with what is possible within your company and current job. You may uncover that your skills, passions, and aspirations have simply outpaced what can be accomplished in your existing role. This clarity is the first step toward making proactive changes.

2. Initiate a Candid Conversation
Schedule a meeting with your manager to openly discuss your desire and readiness for more responsibility, new projects, expanded leadership opportunities, or a promotion. Come prepared with compelling examples and metrics that demonstrate how you’ve contributed value to the organization. Clearly articulate your future goals and your timeline for wanting to develop new skills. Share candidly that you feel unchallenged or underutilized in your current role, and proactively ask what needs to change to help get your career trajectory back on track. Establishing clear expectations and benchmarks with your manager gets the momentum going.

3. Showcase Your Skills
In a world where your professional value is as much about what you can do as it is about who knows you, the onus of recognition often rests on your shoulders. If your manager fails to recognize your potential, take it upon yourself to put your skills on display through impactful projects and visible contributions:

  • Take on Extra Projects: Seek out additional projects that align with your strengths and interests. By volunteering for these opportunities, you can demonstrate your value to the organization and prove your ability to handle more responsibility.

  • Volunteer for Cross-Departmental Tasks: Collaborate with colleagues from different departments or participate in cross-functional task forces. These experiences not only showcase your versatility but also provide a chance to learn new skills and gain a broader perspective of your organization's workings.

  • Seek High-Visibility Assignments: Keep an eye out for assignments related to the company's top priorities. These projects often have a more significant impact and visibility within the organization. By excelling in these high-stakes initiatives, you can make a strong case for your contributions and potential.

Bring your A-game by utilizing your top skills to help advance important company initiatives. Demonstrating initiative and drive proves your dedication and ability to take on more responsibility.

4. Develop In-Demand Skills
Don’t allow your professional growth and learning to stagnate. Make time for actively developing new skills that will increase your value — take courses to gain proficiency in new software, data analytics methods, leadership and management techniques, or any emerging skills valued in your industry. Upskilling shows proactivity and ensures you stay competitive in the job market.

5. Expand Your Network
Make it a priority to expand your professional network by connecting with leaders in different departments and with individuals in more senior roles. Reach out to set up informational interviews and learn about their career journeys. Getting exposure to how things work in other parts of the organization provides insider insight into new initiatives and growth opportunities. Broadening your network also helps influential people learn about your skills and potential.

6. Maintain Forward Momentum
Despite any setbacks or challenges, remain focused on your goals and avoid sinking into resentment. Reframe your thinking in a solution-focused way. Progress may feel painfully slow at times, but staying engaged, positive, and proactive will keep you moving in the right direction. Your diligence and determination will be noticed and pay off over time.

Feeling chronically overlooked at work breeds dissatisfaction and stifles talent. But allowing those circumstances to erode your motivation only relinquishes your power. Recognize your true worth and abilities, and take strategic action to steer your career back on course — like Wood boldly did. You have more control over your professional trajectory than you may realize, even when it feels off track. Stay focused on progress, and growth, advocate for yourself, and reclaim your career.