What to do when you hit a career plateau as a Generalist

Hey generalists! Does your career ‘path’ look a little something like this?

What to do when you hit a career plateau as a Generalist

Hey generalists! Does your career ‘path’ look a little something like this? A zig-zaggy map marked by hops and jumps? If you've been in your current role for a while and feel like you're no longer growing or advancing in your career, you may have hit a career plateau. This can be especially common for Generalists who have a broad range of skills but may not have a clear path for advancement within their organization.

Let’s face it, the excitement in life comes from novelty and learning. Challenging yourself in a novel domain gets you out of bed in the morning with a spring in your step. When the degree of challenge starts to flag, you may be hitting the generalist version of a career plateau.

Personally, I get that itchy-feet feeling after 12-18 months. This isn’t necessarily bad, per se, but I come to realize I’m not as engaged as I once was. This is my signal that it’s time to start thinking about what could be next.

Contrast this with a more linear specialist path where a plateau is marked by not getting promoted.

When you sense a plateau coming, take stock of your pattern

First, assess your historical pattern. Look back at when you have felt that itchy plateau feeling and notice:

  • What are the signs?

  • How long does it usually take to come on?

  • What do you do when it happens?

Understanding your own behaviors will help you make intentional choices and not get swept up in the excitement of the first offer that comes across your desk.

Project into the future (a little)

Next, look at what you want to be doing a few roles from now. Get as specific as possible about the work, role, type of company, impact etc.

Once you have a rough idea of where you want to go, make two lists.

List 1: what has to be true for you to be doing that work in 2 or 3 jobs

  • What skills and experience are required?

  • Do you have to move?

  • Need more connections?

  • Learn something new?

List 2: what you have today

  • Skills and experiences

  • Resources available to you

  • Network and connections

  • Capabilities and talent

Highlight the gaps between what you need and what you have. Make sure your ‘next thing’ checks a few of those boxes and gets you closer to the destination.

Evaluate internal and external opportunities

With these specifics in mind, you can shake the plateau by finding ways to learn within your current company, or by looking outside.

If you don’t want to jump to a new company, advocate for yourself to meet your plateau-busting needs:

  • Ask for special projects or assignments

  • If the company is big enough, raise your hand for an interesting stretch opportunity that is different from your current role

  • Find people who are doing things in your ‘need to learn’ bucket and build a relationship with them

If you want to look outside your company:

  • Reach out to people you worked with before who appreciate your generalist skill set. Ask them to connect you to opportunities in their new companies or organizations.

  • Go to a conference in your new area of interest and connect with the most interesting speakers. Speakers tend to be well-connected and have a broad reach across industries.

  • Network for the sake of meeting interesting people. Join new groups, and set up virtual coffee dates. Having broad conversations just might help you find that next learning opportunity!

And lastly, avoid these mistakes

  • Don’t jump at the first offer that comes your way simply because it is new and different. Be intentional to ensure you find the right learning opportunity.

  • Don’t give too much weight to the opinions of non-generalists as you make career decisions. Their path looks different and what is right for you might not make sense to them.

To wrap up, here are 6 steps you can take to break through a career plateau and keep moving forward:

1. Reassess your goals

Reflecting on your career goals starts with an honest conversation with yourself. What do you want to achieve in the short and long term? Does your current role aligns with your goals, or if you need to make a change?

2. Seek out new challenges around you

Feeling bored or stagnant in your current role? Consider seeking, or creating new challenges within your organization. Look for opportunities to take on new projects or responsibilities, or volunteer for cross-functional teams. Sometimes the chance to flex our generalist skillset is within reach in our current situation, we just need to see it from a different angle or create the right environment for it.

3. Deepen (rather than expand) your network

You’ve heard it before - your network is your net worth. Find your rhythm for networking in a way that feels comfortable for you. This might be attending industry events, joining relevant communities, or connecting 1-1 with folks. Be a great listener; keep an ear out for insights into career paths & options you may not have considered.

4. Invest in what brings you energy

Your generalist tool belt is always expanding. Consider investing in additional training or education to add another notch to your belt. This could include taking courses, attending workshops or conferences, or pursuing a certification. For example in the GW community, we have a group dedicated to learning SQL together!

5. Consider moving laterally

Not able to advance in your current role? How about a lateral move? Switching from your current team, eg: moving from Ops to Product. It’s a win-win for you and the company. You get to try your hand at something different, and your employer gets to retain a valuable employee.

To find support through career plateaus, switches and challenges, check out the community built just for folks like you: generalist.world 👾 

About our guest author, Kathryn:

Kathryn Montbriand spent a decade championing culture change at a Fortune 500 company. She pioneered a first-of-its-kind team of ‘Culturists’ that focused on employee engagement and creating authentic connections in the workplace. She used that same spirit of positive disruption to create Montbriand Services which provides Fractional Chief of Staff support, and Lived and Loved which enables people to access their stories in an innovative way.

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