The New Cheese: A foot in the door…

 

'So, you've no experience, no skills and a poor grasp of reality... Have you considered consulting?'

…is a good way to have a broken foot.

Once upon a time, in a land far away… no, that’s not how that goes. Nevermind. However, I will say that at one point in our collective job markets and career paths the first step was always just getting your “foot in the door.” Am I right?

Of course I am. Think about it. How many self help books or blockbuster movies talk up the dream of “mailroom to boardroom”? We were all told, “Yeah, that may not be the job you want entirely, but it gets your foot in the door.” I must have had that particular sentence said to me more than 20 times over the years of job hunts and resume submissions. I recall trying to find something that would give me the vaunted experience that everyone wants. I applied so many places to hear that they were looking for “license eligible” or “more experience” or possibly “more skilled,” only to have my internal voice screaming Well, how the hell do I get those things without a J-O-B?!? 

Eventually, I settled for a J-O-B that wasn’t in my chosen field, just to pay the bills. All the while, I was still trying to find that first step on my career path. I needed time in my profession. I needed experience… and I continued to hear the same things: “Well, I see here that you have held several positions, but none with any experience in healthcare/mental health.” Yep. It’s enough to discourage the most diligent of job hunters. Eventually, I was at the point of taking any job in the field, no matter the pay, just to be able to put something in my chosen path on my resume. Know what happened then? I bet you can guess. “I’m sorry, but you appear to be overqualified for a non-degree position.” Awesome.

I did gradually wear them down and got my first, barely paid, position with a local mental health agency. It worked. It was my “foot in the door.” I cannot tell you the giddiness with which I handed in my resignation to the 2-3 other jobs I was holding in completely non-related fields just to pay bills. I was finally getting to put my hard-earned degree to work. I saw before me a vista of career moves that led me to higher paths and eventual leadership and…

Five years into that position with barely an increase in salary over that time it dawned on me. I’m going nowhere. It wasn’t that I was content or unambitious. There was literally nowhere for me to go in the organization. My chosen step to place my foot in the door had landed me in a department with virtually no upward mobility and zero feed into senior leadership.

Here is the sad fact about the modern job market. A foot in the door doesn’t do what it used to do. This is where the once upon a time comes into the picture. At one time, in the not so very distant past, the idea was to get a position (any position) in a stable or up-and-coming organization. That meant that you were officially on the “ship” and could move around and up in the organization.

That is not always the case in the new, modern market. First, more and more corporations are following a “right-to-work” marketplace. It’s not a bad thing, but it doesn’t carry the lifetime (or working-lifetime) guarantee it used to carry. It means that the agreement between employer and employee can be terminated on either side at any time for almost any reason… or for no reason at all. While most organizations still follow a specific set of rules and processes to avoid potential damaging lawsuits or reputation burners, it is not technically necessary.

On the other side of that coin is the part about having a foot in the door and whether that gives you opportunity to do anything else except nurse your foot and stand there like a doorstop. Gone are the days of working your way up from the mail-room into the penthouse office of the CEO. Jobs and career paths have become specified, specialized, and terribly single-minded. Diverse and varied resumes need not apply. It seems that in the workforce of today, employers are looking for expertise rather than wide experience. Learning all parts of the job rarely gives extra points.

In many organizations, it is almost easier to get into management and leadership positions from the outside than from within. That sounds pretty odd, I know, but it is true. Some places have specific caps on how far you can jump from one position to another. For instance, many companies have a cap on the number of paygrades that a person can move. While a promotion of one or two paygrades is permissible, a jump of three or more will rule out a candidate faster than you can say glass ceiling. Additionally, even acquiring a paygrade promotion can potentially be limited in the compensation that goes with it. Some companies actually have rules (some actually in writing and others unspoken) that a raise of 5% per paygrade is what you can expect. This is one of the things that can impact a candidate’s ability to attain a higher promotion. In order for them to hold a position with that high a paygrade, it may technically require a higher compensation change, thus violating that rule. Outsiders applying for the same position are not in the same quandary. Their salary and change of salary is not necessarily in question or even in play (and strangely this particular topic of conversation seems to be taboo before the 2nd or 3rd interview… see Salary & Skilz).

So, you see what I am saying? No longer is merely a foot in the door the main consideration in the search for a job. Applying or accepting just any opening in a company or organization is not necessarily the best strategy for long term success within said organization. Where once entering a company at any level provided the opportunity for upward movement, promotion, and growth; now, candidates need to think well ahead for where they want to go within the job market and choose their entry points wisely.

So, too, the resume that once showed how well-rounded with varied experience an applicant is no longer may carry the strength it once did. Employers are looking for candidates that have experience and skills for the position in question and sometimes they look for loyalty (meaning longer duration in the different entries on the resume).

All of this sounds like a very disappointing and depressing outlook on getting into the job market. However, it shouldn’t be. It is merely a caution to be selective and savvy about the steps you take entering any potentially new opportunity for career. It also means that you may need to be patient and understand that an entry level position will not shoot you to the penthouse corner office like the proverbial rocket. It may take some strategy and a lot of patience to get potentially where you want to eventually go. Just make sure that the door you step through is the foot on the path to the place you want to go.

 

 

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