Feeling pigeonholed in your career? Tell yourself a different story

So you’ve spent the last 5, 10, 20+ years in a particular functional role or industry. You’ve gained such deep expertise in your field in fact, you’re considered the subject matter expert in certain circles. However, even with the comfort and confidence that comes with being so good in your role, you feel like something is missing. You feel like it is time to learn something new, perhaps in a different role or even another industry.

You enjoy working for your current employer so you begin exploring new opportunities within the organization, only to learn your manager and other leaders don't like the idea of change, and can't see beyond the work you've done in your current role. Or, the hiring manager for that new position you've had your eye prefers to hire someone with the exact experience the role requires. Or both. So, you start looking outside of your current company and find much the same thing: employers are typically looking to hire individuals with very similar or exact experience the role requires. You become frustrated and discouraged and conclude you're being pigeonholed into a specific role or industry. Eventually the hope of finding a new and exciting challenge fades…

What if, instead of accepting as fact your you must stay on the same career path from 5 or even 20 years ago, you chose to tell yourself a different story:

You’ve spent the last number of years accumulating and mastering a wide variety of skills and expertise. Those skills and expertise have value in a variety of roles and organizations. Armed with those skills and that expertise you’ve been able to accomplish some amazing feats. Those accomplishments have value in your current organization, and can be used to illustrate how you can add that same value and impact in other roles or organizations. In fact, now that you’ve identified how your skills, expertise, and career accomplishments translate to other roles, you are going to craft a compelling message to share with your organization’s leaders so they too can envision you in different roles, tackling new challenges, and solving hard problems. If that doesn’t work, those same skills, expertise, and accomplishments will translate to other organizations too.

The point is: YOU are the one you have to convince first. Once you identify, internalize, and fully believe in your abilities and value, it will be much easier for others to see that too.

Most of us (me included!) have waited around for our coworkers, managers, leadership, and professional peers to see our potential, pick us out of the crowd, and say: “We want you for this new role or project, it is a bit out of your wheelhouse, but we know you can do it!” Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen as often we all would like. Ultimately, we can’t rely on others to see in us what we haven’t identified and fully believe in ourselves. So the next time you’re feeling restless, ready for a new challenge, and thinking of how you can be leveraging your skills and expertise differently, don’t let feeling pigeonholed get in your way. Try this instead:


GET CLEAR: What are the unique skills and abilities that set you apart from others? What career achievements are you most proud of and why? What types of roles and industries do you think your expertise is best suited for? There is no point in fantasizing a career change if you haven’t first become very clear on the value of your expertise and the potential impact you can make in the future. 

KNOW YOUR VALUE: Once you are clear on who you are and the skills and expertise you want to leverage, you can begin exploring different roles and industries that make the most sense for a potential transition. The key here is to identify the link between your expertise and professional achievements, and the challenges to be solved in your future role or industry. How can you use the knowledge and skills you already have to make an impact in new situations?

TELL YOUR STORY: Now you know what you’re good at and where your talents can be of use in the future. The next step is harder: you have to convince others how you’re going to do it. You’re not going to wait for them to figure it out. You must create and tell a compelling professional story and make the connection between your skills and expertise, and your new targeted roles and industries. Who are you telling all of this great stuff to, you ask? You tell me: who are the leaders in your current organization you want to work for? Who in your professional network have you always wanted to ask about their career trajectory? Who can you talk to about getting exposure to a particular role or industry you’re interested in? 


Ultimately we have a choice: we can wait and hope others identify our professional greatness and pull us out of our pigeonhole - or we can tell ourselves a different story rooted in knowing our professional value, knowing how our organizations and industries benefit from that value, and knowing where and how we want to make an impact next.

Sounds nice, but not necessarily easy? Please get in touch to learn more about how I partner with professionals like you to craft and tell your professional story in an authentic and compelling way, to define your full value in the job market, and identify ways to gain access to opportunities that align with your career goals, inspire, and motivate you.

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