Back in eighth grade, we did a unit of study that was an educational version of the game Life. This included having to research a career we were interested in and try to meet someone who worked in the field to get a sense of what the job was like. My very first “informational interview.”
I was dead-set on becoming a marine biologist. I had read they got to play with dolphins and was convinced this was my calling. Visions of working at the Boston Aquarium swam through my head as my father drove me to the office building of a marine biology firm.
Huh? Wait! Where Are the Happy Dolphin Trainers?
Once there, I was given a tour and spent about 20 minutes talking to a marine biologist – or should I say, talking to a guy who was staring into a microscope and refused to look up at me while he answered my questions in toneless, mono-sylabic words. The only time we made eye contact was when he paused briefly to let me look through the microscope to view the organisms he was studying. I left crushed, but resolved to the fact there was no way I would ever become a marine biologist.
What I didn’t realize at the time was how damaging that experience was. I ruled out an entire career path based on one 20-minute meeting. Looking back, it was the beginning of my “career discrimination.”
Careers Don’t Have Personalities, People Do
Career discrimination is making assumptions about a job based on the people we know who do them. Admit it. Lots of jobs have stereotypical types of people in them. If I say “engineer” or “accountant,” I guarantee a certain persona pops into your head. (I can say that because I was an Engineering Psychology major in college.) Same thing with “salesman” or “professional wrestler,” you just can’t help but conjure up an image and a personality to go with it – and then you start to decide what the job must be like, in spite of the fact that you’ve never done it personally. That’s career discrimination – and it’s one of the reasons why some people struggle to find career satisfaction.
Career Discrimination = Mis-Guided Assumptions
All of us have the capacity to find career satisfaction in a variety of roles – we just need to feel the work matters. However, not everyone puts enough emphasis on the need to find work that is self-satisfying. It’s far more common to base career choices on pay, perks, and the type of people who do them, instead of work we finding meaningful. As a result, lots of professionals are now feeling the effects of “golden handcuffs” and are held hostage due to their reliance on the external motivators the job provides, i.e. money, status, etc.
Career Discrimination Hurts Down the Professional Road
There are two times in life when our career discrimination really comes back to haunt us. When we hate our current job so much we become desperate to find a new one, or when we have unexpectedly lost our job and are frantically looking for one. In either of these situations, our choices are based on A) who we have already befriended (a.k.a. our existing network), and B) what industries we feel fit our personality. The outlook starts to look bleak because we feel severely limited in our ability to pivot our career in a new direction.
In some upcoming posts on LinkedIn, I will go into more detail around “disruptive” techniques I use to help people change their approach to career, and more specifically, job search.
In the meantime, here are two basic steps that can help you undo career discrimination.
Step 1: Clean House On Career Assumptions
For anyone reading this article who is feeling the effects of career discrimination, I first suggest you clean house on your assumptions. Forget anything and everything you’ve thought about a career and start fresh. It’s time to get curious about what satisfying work looks like to you.
Step 2: Diversify Your Network
The best way to clear out those assumptions is to network with people NOT in your profession. Step out of your wheelhouse and look around. Who is doing interesting work in a field entirely unrelated to yours? New people with different ideas will help you expand your career knowledge and identify areas that might be of interest. Better still, these people are friends with people in other industries that might be a fit for you. Building relationships with people not in your current career can help you connect-the-dots in ways that can lead you to pivot your career in a new direction. Play the six degrees of separation game and you could find a new friend and a new career.
FYI – If you are reading this, then you happen to be on one of the BEST tools to help you expand your network as outlined in Step 2. So, no excuses!
Tell me…What career discrimination are you guilty of? How did you overcome it?
Share your stories in the comments below. I’d love to hear them!
P.S. – First time reading my posts? Thanks for taking the time to stop by! Not only do I write for Linkedin, but I’m also founder of a popular career advice site,CAREEREALISM,and currently run the career coaching program,CareerHMO. I hope you’ll check them both out!