"Employer is ignoring my abilities"
I'm another mid-lifer, age 45 who, so far, has had four major career changes. Started in
banking with a BA in Economics, then completed an MBA from Purdue. Worked as a portfolio
manager in a trust department, then became a market analyst in chemicals/petroleum.
Returned to the financial industry, and have remained there for fourteen years, except for
brief foray into the public housing arena. Over the last six years, I have helped start,
manage and grow a broker dealer affiliate for a financial institution and now hold Series
7, 24, 63, 65, and 53 broker licenses.
Although I don't necessarily enjoy the nitty gritty of the brokergage business, I love
dealing with financial issues and their marketing implications. I thrive on challenges,
enjoy managing staff and prefer change and situations that require adaptability. But I'm
less of a risk taker with my career than I used to be, and with a husband and two kids, I
am reluctant to leave the Colorado area.
I am at a career plateau and can't determine how to break out without risking everything.
I think I can do more, but wonder if my colleagues agree.
Oh, just to make things a little more complicated, I am an African American female. I have
also spent the last three years pursuing (with my employer's support) a Ph.D. in public
management and policy from the University of Colorado. In fact, I am in the process of
completing a dissertation on the Retirement Savings Patterns of Baby Boomers. The topic
speaks directly to my employers' business and my strong interests.
I had hoped that my employer would see my enhanced education as an opportunity to expand
my role in some area of marketing, planning or product development. Unfortunately, I
appear to be typecast and they have not indicated any real interest in allowing me shift
out of my designated role as manager/broker. As I near graduation (December), I feel the I
need to make a move. I'd prefer not to change employers, but I can't just let all of this
schooling go to waste. (By the way I do have an obligation to stay with my employer for 6
months after my last tuition payment, which will be in August). What do you suggest?
I love hearing from people who have had multiple successful careers. Your
restlessness is a good sign, I think, and a signal that you're about to make another
change. It's very common for someone who has done so much to be a little rattled at the
prospect of yet another change. But you have every reason to believe that whatever shift
you make, you will be successful. Don't think of this kind of change as risk; it's an
evolution of your work. The worst thing that could happen is that your goals, interests
and aspirations get stuck because you view their development as risky.
Have you provided your emlpoyer with clear signals about what you'd like to do next? Don't
wait for the company to figure out what to do with you when your Ph.D. is done. You have
to tell the right people. And the right person may not be your current boss. You may need
to start ploughing other territory in the company. This means cultivating good contacts
into mentors, advisors and references. It means identifying problems and challenges that
you want to tackle in your next job, and spending time with the people who own them now.
I'm not advocating that you tell the company what job you should have next -- not unless
you have a very sturdy political base to work from. I'm suggesting that you start letting
people see what you can do -- but you must focus on the people who would directly benefit
from your new abilities. Volunteer to help with a project in the department where you'd
like to work. When you've shown what you can do, seek out a mentor in that group; ask for
advice. Talk privately with people who may have acted as your mentors in the past. Ask for
advice. Never ask for job opportunities. Those will come. What you need to do is set the
stage and make it easy for the right people to spend time with you.
Don't limit yourself to your current employer, either in terms of job opportunities or in
terms of finding out how your peers see you. Spend time at industry conferences exploring
other businesses. Don't just chat with the people you meet; follow up. Call them
afterwards to discuss industry issues. Develop relationships that will grant you insight
to your own worth in the financial industry. When you're dealing with other companies in
the course of your work, never let a discussion end on the business at hand. Ask the
people you're dealing with about their perceptions of the state of the industry; engage
them in a professional discussion. Mention your baby boomer research and ask them what
they think about the patterns you've identified. Ask who they think might help you get
more insight on these topics.
In my experience, the more you talk about your work and interests with others who might
know more than you do, the more you drill down into important topics in your field, the
more likely you are to encounter great job opportunities. But this pursuit doesn't happen
by itself; you must work at it daily. Remember this: you never, ever need to suggest to
anyone that you're looking for a new job (either in your company or elsewhere). If you
engage their interest and attention in the work you both do and seek through them others
with similar interests, great jobs will appear in the form of people who need your skills
Put your concern about risks aside. Focus on the work you do, and on the work you want to
do. Identify companies (or internal departments) that face problems and challenges you
want to face and tackle. Research them in detail. Then talk to the people whose names you
encounter in your explorations. That's my advice. Your ability to handle change (you've
proven you can handle it) will take over from there.
You don't need much advice. You need a little freedom to explore what matters to you.
Grant it to yourself.
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