my career hit a dead end when we moved to a small town — Ask a Manager

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It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I feel that I have reached a dead-end professionally and could really use some advice.

I used to be the breadwinner for my family. I had a compliance role in the legal department of a Fortune 500 investment company. I loved my job and was really good at it. I developed a ton of expertise in multiple areas and was recognized as a stellar performer. Nine years ago, my section manager, who was in another location, eliminated our entire section and reposted the jobs in the town in which she was based. This was a big blow to my family since I provided health and retirement benefits, as well as the “bread winner” salary.

My spouse’s job is in a very niche field and his position at the time did not have any type of health insurance, sick days, vacation, or retirement benefits. Due to an untenable work situation, he ended up quitting his job and we were both unemployed. A few months later, he found a dream job in his exact field with a Fortune 500 company. It’s probably the only job in this field that is with a corporation and it’s a very unique set-up. His new position was a godsend on a number of levels: doubled salary, company-paid moving costs, cash bonus for selling our house, amazing 401(k) match, pension, stellar health insurance, stability, respect, and a gorgeous office. He’s now making six figures, which is unheard of in this role.

However, the HUGE drawback is that his job is located in a rural state in an ugly small town in the middle of nowhere with only two major employers (with jobs rarely posted in our town). Since moving here, my career has hit a dead end. There are only a handful of jobs in my field in this town. Everything else is basically low-paying retail and fast-food jobs. I’m not “stuck” on the track that I MUST work in my field; I am thinking outside the box and am being creative in my search and open to new fields and experiences. But there is just nothing in this area.

I’ve also applied for numerous positions with my husband’s company. I got one interview with them five years ago. I was the staff members’ choice, but the hiring manager ended up hiring her best friend. I recently applied for another position there. in my exact field, albeit in an administrative assistant capacity (which would be a step down from my previous compliance position). In my cover letter, I explained that an administrative support position in my field is now my desired career path and would really enjoy working in a support role in a field in which I excel. (I didn’t state this in the letter, but I realize that I will likely not find something in my town that will equal my former position and have lowered my expectations for employment.) I thought I’d at least get an interview. No dice.

We are an hour-plus away from a large city. Due to a chronic health situation, I’d really like to avoid a two-hour commute and stay closer to home. Out of desperation, though, I’ve also searched in that area to no avail. I can’t even get interviews for jobs that have the unique qualifications and experience I have.

My resume and cover letter apparently aren’t the problem — I’ve consulted with professionals and have gotten stellar reviews on its presentation, content, and layout. I’m upbeat in my letters and feel like my tone is can-do/proactive. I can’t help but wonder if it’s my age (I just turned 50 today). The commute doesn’t seem to be worth it because of the impact on my health, and salaries are significantly lower (they are at the level of pay I made 20 years ago; my previous salary was on par with the national average).

I currently work part-time as an administrative assistant. I have excelled in my position and received stellar feedback from our board. There are no raises, no benefits, no sick days, no increase to full-time, etc. I do enjoy it, but it doesn’t pay the bills. I am at my wit’s end and am so depressed that the career that I once loved is dead. I feel hopeless in this dead-end town and like I’ve descended into bitterness. (In reviewing my letter to you, I can see the bitterness and disappointment oozing out of it. I’m careful that my cover letter and resume aren’t portraying this vibe!)

I have even considered leaving my husband (who’s a great husband) just to escape this dead-end town. I feel like I have nothing for myself career-wise. He is unwilling to compromise because the money is just too good (and it doesn’t make financial sense for him to leave the job). The blossoming of his career has meant the death of mine.

I have tried to stay busy all these years and have developed new professional and personal skills and have volunteered. Going back to school is not an option due to my child’s college bills. (I really need a job to help pay for his college!) At this point, I don’t know what to do or where to turn. I’d love some advice, encouragement, or someone to perhaps point out something I’m missing. I have a lot to offer but feel like my education, skills, experience and knowledge have become worthless. Since I am looking at jobs that are professionally a step down on the ladder from my previous position, I’d love to know how to address this in a cover letter so that I’m not rejected outright for being overqualified. We have 15 years until my husband retires and I don’t know how much longer I can go on like this.

I’m so sorry. I’m assuming you’ve looked at jobs that can be done remotely (and looked at them recently, since there are a lot more now than there used to be).

But I think this may be more a marriage problem than a professional problem. Does your husband know how unhappy you are, and does he understand he’s unilaterally deciding his needs trump yours and that his career satisfaction comes at the expense of you being completely miserable? When it’s put in those terms, is he okay with that? Are you okay with that? The two of you are a partnership; when the terms are not working for one of you, both of you have an obligation to work toward a solution. Right now it doesn’t really sound like he is.

Readers, what other advice do you have?

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