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Do you feel typecast and pigeonholed in your career?
Do you want to be recognized for ALL the skills and experience you can bring to your company and role?
Are you ready to spread your wings in a new role, expand your skills or network?
You’re Not Alone
In my career, I felt like I’d been pigeonholed in project manager. Maybe this is because I’d successfully promoted myself and my resume as a software and information technology project manager. Hooray! Marketing success! For a long time, there’s no other association that could reasonably be made about me.
This works well when looking for a job, since many companies and hiring managers are risk-averse. They want someone who’s already been a project manager when they’re looking for a new project manager employee (the same holds true for whatever role you fill). I realized as I looked at my LinkedIn profile and old email accounts, there’s a lot of connection with and identification of me and project manager. I’m a member of several professional groups and associations comprised of project managers talking to project managers about project management.
I Realized If I Want To Grow, I Need To Look Beyond The Role
If I want a job in project management, this is awesome! All these project managers might know of some project manager job openings.
On the other hand, if I want a job, this is horrible: these are all my competitors for the position, and they know it. There’s only sometimes a willingness to share supportively.
Worse, if I already have a job, this kind of association may look like a conflict of interest to my current employer.
Finally, this knot of project management groups in my life is ostensibly a great resource for continuing development as a project manager. However, likely even better are PMI meetings and many courses whose hours can actually be applied as continuing education units.
Nonetheless, in all these scenarios, no matter what I do, I’ll still be a project manager.
Larry Had To Look Beyond His Role, Too
When he asked for my help, Larry’s boss was pressuring him to drop safety-related work in favor of efficiency-related demands the company had prioritized. As the lead maintenance engineer, Larry could do it all, but he couldn’t do it all at once. He was getting in trouble with his boss because he was focusing only on the most important elements of the role, as he prioritized them.
He was ignoring his boss’s demands. After all, as a professional engineer, the safety-related work could put him in jail if it weren’t performed and there were a related injury incident. As far as Larry was concerned, regardless of his boss’s opinion, the cost-reduction projects could wait. The resulting atmosphere was stressful, and tempers were raw.
His Insubordination Nearly Cost Him His Job
The tide turned for Larry when he realized he could not only de-prioritize his boss’s pet projects, but he could also cooperate with his boss.
He could engage his boss directly and candidly about his failure to meet his boss’s expectations.
With my support, it wasn’t long before Larry was sitting side by side with his boss at his boss’s desk, helping to fill out the paperwork needed to start Larry’s termination. (The content was too technical for his boss to document accurately).
A Satisfying Career Change For Larry
The paperwork was escalated through HR and the picture became clear across the organization. Then Larry’s boss and his boss’s boss were relieved of their professional responsibilities. This was a direct result of the risks they were imposing on Larry’s professional license, staff safety, and the corporation’s brand and safety record.
Next, Larry received the unprecedented opportunity to tour other corporate sites in Ireland with company big shots.
During this formerly stressful period of his career, which had lasted over a year, we also had Larry considering other options. He had been making other plans for a satisfying career change, in the event the situation didn’t resolve in a timely manner. Suffering is optional, after all.
Then Larry was promoted into a senior-level role.
As timing would have it, and because the wheels were already in motion, not long after he was promoted, he announced his retirement. He retired a young man, 7 years earlier than he had planned before the safety/efficiency conflict, which was already early by most standards.
Larry now tours the country and takes long international trips, playing sports and visiting family.
No-One Does It All Well
There are no jacks of all trades in corporate America. The better you do and the farther you go, the more you specialize. Even C-level staff are pigeon-holed into a job title and a specialty.
CEOs specialize in startup, growth, mid, or large companies. They specialize in turnarounds or stability, and they typically come from sales, finance, or operations functions. They usually have an industry specialization because that’s where their network and experience plants them. The experienced ones have a game plan and a project roadmap that’s fairly easy to find. Just look at the published goals and achievements of their last 2 or 3 jobs.
There’s a model in consulting to break things down to industries, functions, roles, and tools. Like many of us, CEOs are industry and role specialists. Also like us, many are one-hit-wonders who do the same things over and over in their careers. We’re creatures of habit and comfort, after all. We will usually repeat a pattern as long as it serves us and we are rewarded for it, no matter how stuck we ultimately become. Also, there’s often a great deal of inertia and invisible pressure around us, keeping us where we are.
For A Satisfying Career Change, Look Beyond Your Background
Are you looking to create a career change toward a more satisfying career? You can use the consulting model as a frame of reference. Begin by creating expertise in new industries, new functions, new roles, or new tools.
For example, if you’ve already been in sales, look to the related roles of marketing, product management, or customer support. What other functions do you have familiarity and interest in? Go have a conversation with someone in that area about life and work over there.
Look around yourself at work and ask what other people do. Of course, if you’ve read this far, you’ve probably already exhausted the obvious resources. If that’s the case, you can begin by:
- Informational interviewing people with roles that interest you.
- Taking assessments to learn more about yourself and your interests.
- Reflecting on what you’ve liked and what you’ve — not liked — in your life and career. Consider where you might find more — or less — of each.
Tool specialization or skill expansion could start at any vendor conference or Meetup, e.g. SalesForce, Oracle or any software or information security product sales pitch. Furthermore, the industry-agnostic groups above, and many other professionally oriented events and groups, will also contain people willing to introduce you to specific tools and solutions.
You may have a clear idea where your next satisfying career change may lie. Are you seeing the progress you want? Sign up for my email list below. Look for a future article about how to promote your career change.
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Also published on Medium.