Anyone who has worked a dead-end job knows the signs:
Eyes on the clock, phone breaks every ten minutes, and the compulsion to minimize browser tabs whenever your boss enters the room — just a few of the telltale clues you are sick of your job.
Indeed, many young workers are feeling checked out these days. Only three in 10 millennials report being emotionally and behaviorally engaged with their work and company, according to a recent survey from Gallup. No wonder about half of young respondents in the survey were non-committal about whether they planned to stay with the same employer in the coming year.
What's an unhappy worker to do?
The first step is acknowledging you want a change. Once you do that, there are a few key steps you can take to make your fantasy of switching jobs — or careers — into a reality.
Here's what the experts say you should do to tune out the noise, find your purpose, and start building a fulfilling professional future.
Start with some (actual) introspection
Knowing what you really want is hard — especially with other people's opinions are front and center.
"Millennials especially tend to have a lot of external input from their families and what their friends think is a cool job or a cool company to work for," said Alexandra Cavoulacos, founder of jobs website The Muse.
Social media doesn't help, as friends' promotions and work successes climb ever higher in our feeds; ignoring these distractions and instead looking inward requires serious focus.
Cavoulacos recommends an approach developed by veteran career coach Richard Leider, who suggests figuring out your "calling" by separating out three considerations: Gifts (what you're good at), Passions (what makes you happy), and Values (your beliefs).
One way to use these buckets is to jot down a good old-fashioned list: Make a column for each of Leider's categories and start brainstorming.
What are your strongest talents? What tasks do you find most fun? As you collect your thoughts, pay attention to any themes or common activities that bridge the columns: The ideal job for you will be both enjoyable and well-suited to your skills.
Remember to think about your weaknesses, too, without being too hard on yourself. Easily distracted? Some studies have shown that you're probably also more creative.
An honest appraisal of what kind of employee you might be is the best way to start figuring out which professions, industries, and workplaces to consider — and which you'd be better off skipping.
Hate the 9 to 5? Make nights and weekends count
Recent grads may feel so lucky to get a job offer that they'll simply jump at it: No surprise that less than 40% of them even attempt to negotiate their first salary offer.
But once the honeymoon phase wears off, low pay and the relentless grind can start to get to you.
"It can happen fairly quickly," said Kerry Hannon, a career expert and author of Love Your Job. "Sometimes when you're just starting out and you've done well in school, your ladder to date has been up up up. And then you start at a company and you kind of level out."
All the more reason to double down on job search efforts during nights and weekends.
While your search for something new will obviously include lots of web research and digging around on LinkedIn, don't underestimate the value of "passive" job hunting: Volunteering, attending meet-ups, or taking on a side-project are all great ways to meet new people and prospective employers, and get a feel for what activities really make you tick.
Even if nothing comes of it right away, it's important to break the stasis brought on by a job that feels like a dead end.
"We move to things that are coherent and safe and familiar but really don't serve us," said Harvard Medical School psychologist Susan David.
Figure out what parts of your sh*tty job you don't mind
Succeeding in today's workforce requires adaptability to new jobs and bosses: A recent study from LinkedIn found that the number of employers recent graduates can expect in their first five years out of college has nearly doubled in the last few years.
That's changing the way we work.
We've moved from a "careerist economy, which implies some degree of stability, to a project-oriented economy which implies uncertainty and instability," said Jonas Koffler, an entrepreneur and author of the upcoming book Hustle. "But [it] also assures upsides if you're comfortable with the notion that you need to go out there and make things happen."
What all this means is that it's worth it to put in effort and successfully execute on projects at your current job — even if you are itching to leave the whole time. Identifying just a few tasks at which you'll excel, Koffler explains, will help you find a way to get noticed by future employers.
Doubling the size of your company's social media following, for example, or re-organizing a dated-filing system, could show a prospective boss that you bring value to the table.
In a project-oriented economy, these accomplishments can say a lot more about what you have to offer employers than a fancy degree or internship.
Avoid the proverbial "spray and pray"
The most common mistake new job seekers make is that they don't approach the search process methodically, experts said.
"They apply to every single job they could find, thinking that more applications equals more interviews equals more offers," Cavoulacos said.
The dead giveaway on a cover letter? "Dear hiring manager."
If you can't find the actual name of the hiring manager for the position you want, find someone with a similar title — or you might even address your letter directly to the CEO.
Remember that politely conversational cover letters often read better than a formal recitation of your accomplishments, Cavoulacos added.
Rather then trying to apply to as many jobs as possible, choose a few that truly interest you; use the time you save to tailor your resume and follow up.
Use social media to create a "brand"
Before you roll your eyes at this oft-repeated platitude, know that it's among the most important moves you can make in your job hunt.
In fact, a large majority of hiring managers cop to actively checking out prospective employees' online presence.
"You've got to get serious about scraping your social media pages," Hannon said. "Seriously do it. Get yourself untagged. Employers are going to do the reconnaissance on you like you are on them."
Now, leveraging social media is also as much about doing the right things as it is about deleting that old picture of you suckling a beer bong.
Hannon recommended setting up Google alerts for any companies you're interested in, and not being shy about reaching out to employees directly.
If it seems gauche, remember that it's on you to find a way to get your foot in the door: 78% of recruiters say their best candidates come through referrals.
"Networking online and in-person often complement one another," said LinkedIn career expert Catherine Fisher. "Meeting someone new at an event or a social setting is a great way to establish a connection, but it will be a missed opportunity if you just let it end there."
In other words, embrace the shmooze and send messages to the most inspiring people you meet and read about online. The worst thing that can happen is that they don't see it, or don't have time to write back.
If all else fails, talk to a stranger
It can suck to share your career woes with friends when they aren't feeling similar unhappiness. But that shouldn't hold you back from getting help.
Try getting some outside perspectives, or calling in the pros.
"A career coach or a career counselor can also help you draw a picture of who you are... It's an unbiased opinion from a person who can look at you and give you your sales pitch," Hannon said.
Give advice to someone who is very similar to you.
Susan David, a former therapist, said she used to do this with her patients: "I'd ask, 'How do you think you should deal with the situation?' [and they'd say] 'I have no idea.' But if I said, 'What if your best friend was in the situation,' they'd come up with 20 things."
That's the power of "perspective taking," she said.
Sometimes getting a little distance can put your true desires into focus, which won't just help you land a job: Knowing what you want is the best possible starting point for a career.