Is Your Job Running out of Gas?

part 3

Gas-tank reading: 1/2 down

You've been pigeonholed.
The problem is common enough: Within your company, you become identified with the position that you first held or with a project that you tackled early in your career - and no matter what skills you add, no matter what promotions you earn, those early associations continue to hold you back. You're like an actor who's been typecast, and if you don't find a way out of that pigeonhole, you may find your career stagnating.

"I see this phenomenon a lot," Lassiter says. "A woman came to see me who had originally been hired in a bank as an administrative assistant. That was three jobs ago. Now she's managing a major database initiative for the bank, but to her boss, she's still an administrative assistant. She's not getting the resources that she needs to run the project successfully. Just as important, she's not being offered the supervisory experience that she'll need for future assignments."

To get around the pigeonhole problem, develop your skills as a negotiator. Learn how to ask for what you want without putting other people - in particular, your boss - in a corner. "Don't confront your boss with your concern that you've been pigeonholed," Lassiter advises. Instead, propose a demonstration project, a special task or initiative that will take, say, 10% of your time and that you can use to change the way the boss looks at you. "You're saying, 'Give me a test,' " Lassiter explains. " 'I can do the rest of my job and still have time to tackle this project. Let's see how it goes.' If it works, the company benefits, and so do you. And if the boss won't even let you try, your job is even more out of gas than you thought."

Gas-tank reading: 2/3 down

Your reputation is working against you.
Reputation is a taboo subject that most people, and most companies, shy away from. But your reputation can kill you, or it can vault you into new levels of opportunity - often without your even knowing why. How well you manage your reputation can determine how much gas remains in your tank.

"A reputation is created by an action or a perception," notes Lassiter. "Then it gets spread throughout an organization by word of mouth. Once it gets established within a company, your reputation can be hard to change - even if it's based on a misperception or a miscommunication."

Lassiter tells the story of a woman consultant who got stuck with a reputation for being greedy. "There was a dispute over how to divvy up the rewards from a lucrative new client," Lassiter says. "One of her colleagues, who had a grudge against her, went to the boss and accused this woman of claiming more than her fair share. The charge that she was greedy and overreaching spread through the whole firm. The only route left open to her was to leave. Eventually she went to another big consulting firm and was quite happy there. But a major career shift had stemmed from that one episode."

So how do you manage your reputation? Lassiter suggests thinking about it as one element in your overall performance. Ask for regular feedback on how you are perceived within your company. "Say to your boss, 'I heard around the watercooler that there's a problem with my reputation. Do you think that's an accurate impression?' " she advises. "Then at least you can get it out in the open - where you can talk about it." You may not be able to change a bad reputation, but once you address it, you can decide whether the only solution is to change jobs. And you may find out that you have a good reputation. In that case, notes Lassiter, you've got the equivalent of an endorsement that you can add to your resume.

Gas-tank reading: 3/4 down