Trapped in a Pigeonhole? Ways to Get Out
It’s bound to happen. You’re going along in your career, happy as a lark. Then you’re ready for that next big thing. However, you get frustrated. It seems that your employers are happy with you, but you’re still stalled out in your career. Then you realize the bad news…you’re trapped in a pigeonhole.
Let me summarize what pigeonholing is in a nutshell – pigeonholing is placing a particular person in a job category or position because management views you in a particular way. No matter what you say or do, management still views you in that way, so you’re stuck in what you’re currently doing.
Let me give you some examples of pigeonholing:
- You started out with a company as an intern, and the company hired you after graduation. Even though you’ve proven yourself enough to get hired after your internship, management still views you as the intern, so you don’t get that many opportunities to advance.
- You’re a rock star marketing analyst. However, this isn’t what you want to do for the rest of your life, so you look for opportunities that suit your career goals. You find, to your dismay, that management doesn’t fully support your efforts for career growth because you’re a “rock star marketing analyst – keep doing what you’re doing”.
- You’re a software developer, and you worked in the X language for 10 years. Then, you get laid off. However, nearly all the jobs out there are in Y language. You know that in software development, once you learn one language, you can pick up any language relatively quickly. You even take a class in the Y language so you can hit the ground running. Despite your experience and skills, recruiters don’t give you a second look because you program in the X language, not the Y language.
Do any of those scenarios fit you? If they do, then I can help you break the pigeonhole with one simple method that’ll probably send traditionalists in a tizzy – if you haven’t moved up the ladder or moved in a different position that’s more in line with your career goals within 3 years, you need to switch companies.
I can hear the traditionalists now – “How dare you promote job-hopping?!?! Don’t you know it’ll make people look bad to employers?!? Are you crazy?!?” No, I’m not. Here’s the reality – the dot-com bubble burst of 2000 and the Great Recession of 2008 disrupted industries to the point where it threw the notion of staying with a job for 5-10 years or more out the window. Now, if a person changed jobs every 18 months, that person won’t be viewed highly. However, if a person changes a job every 3 years, most companies don’t hold it against the job candidate, especially if it’s an IT position.
What are some things that you can do now before you’re forced to leave your job?
If you’re looking to change careers:
- Take courses in that discipline. Taking courses also gives you a chance to see whether you’ll really like working in that discipline.
- Do volunteer work for hands-on experience in your dream discipline. For example, if you want to transition to law, volunteer for a law agency. Experience will help you get that job, even though it’s volunteer work.
- Do videos and write articles that focus on your knowledge in your dream discipline. This demonstrates your knowledge, and you can highlight this on your resume.
- If you work in a large corporation, make friends with people that work in your dream discipline. It helps you with making a move to the new department if you have advocates that are already there.
- Make friends with people that work in your dream discipline outside of your company. This gives you a chance to learn the good, bad and ugly about your dream career.
If you want to stay in your chosen discipline but you’re looking to move up the ladder:
- If you need to take business courses, take business courses, because you need to be familiar with the business end as well as the details about your career field
- Do volunteer work where you’re in a leadership role, like a chairperson for a committee or an athletic coach.
- Take a part-time job teaching. This has a dual effect of improving your communication skills as well as your leadership skills.
- Volunteer for high-profile projects at work. This gets you noticed by people outside of your department, and it gives you an opportunity to “strut your stuff”.
- Do videos and write articles that focus on your strategic business knowledge rather than the actual hands-on “how to”. Even if you don’t have the opportunity to move up the ladder, you can use this as part of your portfolio for your next job.
Regardless of whether you want to change careers or move up the ladder:
- If you’re lucky to have a manager who’s actually a great leader, let him or her know about what you want in your career. A great leader will do what they can to help you with your career growth. Plus, your manager is not psychic, so how can s/he have an opportunity to help you if s/he doesn’t know what you’re looking for?
Here’s a special note for those of you who are already managers. I work as a manager, and I personally want to do anything that I can to help that person get to their next step, because to me, if I tell people to “keep doing what they’re doing”, they’re going to become resentful, their work quality will drop, and they’ll leave me to figure out how to do different things in their job once they leave. If I encourage people to pursue their passions and do what I can in my power to support them in that journey, they will stay loyal to me, they’ll continue to go above and beyond in their job, and when they get the chance to fly the nest, they leave copious notes and spend time training others in the department so the transition is barely noticeable.
- Adopt some serious knowledge sharing strategies by documenting everything that you do and teaching others on how to do some of your day-to-day tasks. This is especially important if you’re the “rock star” in the group. Managers are hesitant on losing you because you are so amazing at what you do, and they’re afraid that others can’t do what you can do. By sharing everything that you know, it shows that if you move upward and onward, the team will be able to carry on with little to no issue.
Give yourself the difference between 3 years and the time you’ve started with the company. For example, if you’ve been with the company for a year, give yourself 2 years. If you’re still stuck in your situation at your job after 2 years, unfortunately, you need to move on. If you don’t want to wait until you have another job before you leave, make sure that for that period of time, you live frugally and save boatloads of money so you have a cushion.