Job Search

Evading the Trap: 5 Surefire Ways to Avoid Being Pigeonholed in Your Job Search

avoid being pigeonholed

When you’ve been in a certain type of position for several years, you may feel yourself getting boxed in. This can be frustrating for employees but can also be problematic for the long-term future of your career. If you want to make a change from your current position, how can you avoid being pigeonholed? 

“As a career coach, the hardest clients to help are those who’ve spent years doing small variations of the same job. That’s a huge mistake—just like inflation’s impact on the economy, if your skills remain static, you’re actively losing value in the marketplace. And that can kill your prospects long term,” writes Anish Majumdar.

You may also feel pigeonholed when applying for jobs that are even slightly different than the one you have. Angela Connor, founder of InspireHQ, connects with many job changers who struggle to even secure interviews for positions that are only slightly different from the ones they already hold. 

5 Ways to Avoid Being Pigeonholed

Understand the role you want and your dream company.

If you want to shift job roles, it’s important to understand what you’re getting into in your new position. That means reading job postings of interesting positions to both get a handle on the job responsibilities, as well as deciding if you currently have the necessary skills to make a career shift. 

Even if you are staying in your field, you may need to invest in some training or volunteer to gain new competencies. You may also want to start attending conferences or other events in the field. 

Once you have narrowed in on the role that interests you, start researching your ideal company, even if they don’t have open positions at the moment. You can see what qualifications people who currently have the role hold, notice key problems and initiatives at the organization, and begin identifying key contacts. 

Make connections with career shifters like you.

One of the best ways to shift your role is to start connecting with others who hold the position you want. It’s even better if you can find someone who followed a similar, non-linear pathway that is similar to yours. They may also be more willing to connect with you if they notice these commonalities. See if they’re willing to talk with you online or in-person about their career and what tactics they used to enter the role they’re in now. 

Voice-to-voice time with someone at your target company is imperative.

As you move closer to your desired role, speaking with someone at the company who may be hiring for the position is key. As Elene Cafasso, an Executive Coach, explains, some hiring managers seek job candidates who fit the job posting as closely as possible, something your job history may not do. That’s why talking with someone who has clout at the organization where you want to work is so important. 

“Just about everybody uses the automated resume trackers…,  and recruiters often want candidates to be an exact square peg in an exact square hole. What you really need to do to be successful is get that voice-to-voice interaction,” Elene notes.

Consider your unique value proposition.

If you want to perform a different role than the one you currently do, you need to convince the hiring manager you bring something unusual to the table. Rather than framing your current work as a hindrance to your success in this role, reframe your career history as making you uniquely qualified for the position. What problems are you positioned to solve that others couldn’t? Why does your work history give you an edge? You are an active participant in making sure you avoid being pigeonholed – seize the opportunity to show clearly why your particular past makes you the best one for this new role. 

Use language in your application materials and online presence that translates to both positions.

If you’re looking for a role that’s different from the one you’re in, it’s important to use the language of the role you want. That doesn’t mean you’re lying about your skills; rather, it means you need to do the work of translating your qualifications to fit the terms they use and the competencies they value. You can’t avoid being pigeonholed if you’re still using the same language as your previous roles. 

Change your language in your online presence, cover letter, and resume, after perusing the types of qualifications professionals in the job you want to have use. 

“Spruce up your profile so that it highlights all of the big wins, but choose your wording carefully so that it translates to both fields—your current, and the one you are interested in,” consultant Claire Tak says. 

Career Changing Is Common

If you worry about being pigeonholed in your career, you should recognize you aren’t alone. In 2019, a survey found that nearly 50 percent of workers made dramatic career shifts – demonstrating how possible it is to sell your skills in one role to another. 

Whether you want to change roles at your company or move elsewhere, there are few keys to a successful job pivot: understand the role you want, network with others already doing what you want to, and demonstrate that your work history is a help – not a hindrance – to your future success.


Need help building your job search strategy? Meet with an Executive Career Coach!


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