Good Job, Hit the Ceiling Quickly, Looking for Advice on the Next Steps
June 29, 2014 6:58 AM   Subscribe

Looking for advice. I have a great job, great quality of life, but no career potential whatsoever. I want to move jobs and stay in my industry but have been told alternately: too expensive, not qualified or way-too-experienced-for-entry-level. Snowflake details (and tl:dr) inside.

I started out of college with a failing consulting company in the US maritime environment. My boss, nationally a decently high-profile individual in our field, basically told me that she'd start me just above minimum wage, feed me work to the level of my competence, and keep going as long as I kept her confidence.

It's been pretty awesome. After five years, I'm making six figures, I've added two relevant degrees, work the hours and take the vacation that I choose, have carte blanche to jump into any project around the office, and have made a number of pretty good connections with executives in government, industry, and regulatory bodies. Seriously. For quality-of-life, it's been great - I've given presentations and recommendations in small-meetings to heads of state, been privy to the regulatory sausage-making of our industry, and done media ranging from local talk shows to the WSJ. Cool.

My area of responsibility is working basically as an interface between local governmental agencies.

Why leave?

One, I'm under 30 and don't have anywhere to grow in our organization. My boss agrees that I've gone as far as possible in our company: I work directly for her, doing the most challenging, high-profile work our company is likely to see in a decade. ... however, her job is a post-retirement job where she's expected to bring a very-current rolodex from a military/regulatory environment, so it's not really something I can build towards. She's offered to help restructure the organization to keep me, but admits that the job will always be a local one.

The second reason I want to leave is much simpler and more personal: in the next few years, I want to work/live near (read: same continent) most my family in Northern Europe (I have EU citizenship, and speak conversational, if not fluent, German).

I'm able to talk to my boss about this, and while she's not really able to assist, she's said if there's anything she can do, she's willing to, and has helped open a few doors, though usually with suggestions of positions that I'm quickly informed are a decade or two more senior than is appropriate.

For the last two years, I've cold-sent resumes, I've applied to the online crapshoots, I've written letters and visited companies that I know need people from internal sources, and I've attempted to leverage connections. The latter bits have been the only times I've gotten anywhere, but on those occasions I've been told by HR several variants of "Well, I'm talking to you because my boss/boss's boss/etc asked me to put you in the final interview pile, but I really am looking for someone with 5-10/10-15 years of very specific experience that you don't have", and "we're really looking to get... well... something for nothing, so I don't think that you'd be a fit at all...".

I've applied for jobs whose descriptions fit what I want, and I've applied for entry level/just-above entry level positions. When leveraging the senior/executive contacts I've made, I usually just say "Hey, we've worked together, you know some of what I'm good at and what I'm not, I'm looking to continue a career in this industry and am willing to work anywhere you think I can add value."

Any advice? If you've hit your local ceiling, what worked for you?

Were it just me, I'd pick up, move to NL/DE and find something when I land, however my wife (who is very supportive of the situation otherwise, though far more risk-averse than I am) isn't able/willing to go quite that far, mainly because of medical conditions which mean that we may need to live, on relatively short notice, on my salary alone.

I don't think what I'm doing is sustainable, little-to-nothing of my current job is building experience or transferrable, and I quite literally will never get to the (physical) place I want to be working where I am. Basically, I'm a governmental/regulatory consultant who's doing work 20-30 years ahead of where I "should" because of the reputation of my boss (which gets the work), and her trust and confidence that I'll exceed her expectations. More than that, the most effective/valuable work I've done I can't really claim on paper or publicly: developing strategies to avoid daily political minefields that've had us in the sights of local congresscritters, juking our board of directors to increase the organization's ability to leverage second and third order goals and adjusting on the fly, managing personalities as much as projects to keep the company growing, etc.


I have a great job, great quality of life, but no career potential whatsoever.

I want to move jobs and stay in my industry (with the ultimate goal of ending up in NL/DE), but have been told alternately: too expensive, not qualified or way-too-experienced-for-entry-level. Transferrable skills are basically those of a political operator (I learn things really quickly, fix broken systems, and optimize functional ones), but I'm in an industrial environment, so that's not necessarily useful (yet). Tried leveraging contacts (and will continue to do so), but while the bosses may trust me with the high level crap, the HR guys read my resume and asks if I was misfiled somewhere.

Suggestions? Thank you for any advice you may have.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (1 answer total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
From my reading of your question you are working in a position that requires a unique set of skills. You have developed these skills to a high standard and are being rewarded for having done so. The rewards are both financial and relate to control over your work - this second 'reward' shouldn't be taken lightly, it is something many people do not have.

However, other jobs don't necessarily need the unique set of skills you have so far developed. In fact, your unique skill set might be your weakness in applying for other jobs. Delivering outcomes for one person is the opposite of what many large organisations need. Instead, they are looking for people who have developed skills around delivering outcomes for multiple 'bosses' with competing agendas.

Another thing that might be holding you back is where you are at in your career. I think the phase between entry level & experienced professional is really tricky to navigate. A lot of businesses want people they can shape (entry level) or people that can walk into a specific role (experienced professional). It's hard to make career moves as a mid-level professional. You know a lot already, but you can still learn & evolve and you don't necessarily have the seniority to step into a role and order people around.

Your strength, to me, lies not in your current skills, but in your ability to pick up skills and perform them to a high standard. This is what you need to sell: not what you can do, but that you can do anything.

Also: coming from someone who performed well in a high intensity job in my early career, believing your 5-6 years translates to a standard 20-30 years experience is incorrect. It may feel that way (really, I know), but a few more years in more senior positions will prove that Rumsfield proposition: you don't know what you don't know. HR people, though, know your limitations. Work with them. Ask them what they think you need to pick up to get the job/s you want.

tl;dr lower your expectations and be ready to learn again. Your seniority in this current role won't necessarily translate to another.
posted by bernardbeta at 5:34 AM on July 11, 2014

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