Job Change: Fly out of that pigeonhole!


Have you ever been in a position in your career where you’re known for being good at something, but it isn’t what you actually want to be known for, and isn’t what you actually want to do?

This is called being “pigeonholed”, and it can be a tough situation – when the main reason you are “useful” to your employer is through doing something you don’t really like to do.

I see this phenomenon appear for several reasons:

Technical skill: Someone who has a technical skill that nobody else has is going to be labelled as the go-to person for that activity. This is great when the person loves to do it, but often they don’t.

Work history: When somebody has a history of working in a given area or on certain types of projects, other people can conveniently assume that they don’t know anything else, and aren’t even interested in trying different things. This can occur in the workplace, and can also be the case when dealing with career change – “Sarah is running a cafe? But she’s an accountant!”

This can be challenging and frustrating for several reasons, and a label of being the go-to person for something can be hard to shake.  There are a few reasons why it’s difficult:

It feels good:

Sometimes, it just feels good when people NEED you for something they can’t (or refuse to) do. This feeling is only temporary, however, and the more you give into it, the worse it will get!

You have no other value:

When your employer doesn’t see you as having any value other than in the role you dislike, then you’re going to get lumped with that task time and time again, because that’s what they’re paying you for.

You’re growing in expertise:

If you’re progressing using a skillset or in a role you don’t like, chances are you are still moving forward on that path. The more you do it, the more pay you will likely receive and the more highly sought after you will be. After a while, you can’t even do anything else and you’re too well paid to want to stop.

Sounds bleak, right? It can be. But there are several ways to get out of your pigeonhole, if you really don’t like it. Here are some of the ways:

Be clear and firm:

When you really don’t like what you’re doing and want to change it, you really have to put your foot down whenever you can. Make your intentions clear and try wherever possible to avoid the activity that keeps you entrenched in your pigeonhole. Gain support through your line management, peers, and people outside your team to get access to other opportunities that take you further away from the role you’re stuck in.

Know what you DO want to do:

People often get pigeonholed because they haven’t specified a preference for something else they want to be doing. If you haven’t chosen a direction, then you’ll just keep doing what you’re doing and people will continue to hold you in your little box.

Network with new people:

People who have never met you won’t have you pigeonholed in a certain area, because they don’t know you well enough. Networking with people in a community that you want to be a part of is a good way to shake any unwanted label that has been stamped on you. This is extremely important for building a supportive network for a career change.

Make a fresh start:

Sometimes, you just can’t get out of the pigeonhole. It might be necessary to fly right out of there and into another job or career. Your change of situation will come with a fresh bunch of people, so you can start from a clean slate and develop that set of skills and reputation that you want to be known for.

Being pigeonholed into a certain role can be tough and frustrating. However, with some decisive action and a clear understanding of what you want to be known for, you can climb right out of there. Good luck!

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