Career Q&A

What career-limiting moves have you seen someone make?

Hannah Frankman
February 2020

Meet Kelsey.

Kelsey went to a four-year college and got a degree in marketing. She just graduated, and now she’s on the job market and looking for the opportunity that’s going to kickstart her professional career.

Because she has a degree in marketing, she’s looking exclusively for marketing roles—and because she’s always dreamed of living in the Pacific Northwest, she’s filtering her opportunities by location and targeting Portland and Seattle.

Sounds reasonable, right? She’s being intentional about how she begins the rest of her life. That’s good!

But here’s the kicker: by putting these constraints around her search (and telling herself she isn’t open to opportunities that don’t fit these criteria), she’s immediately disqualifying a huge portion of the jobs market.

On the other side of the country—in Raleigh, NC—there’s an awesome SaaS company that’s looking to hire people for their customer success team. The listing crosses Kelsey’s radar, and she immediately disqualifies it. Raleigh is as far from the PNW as you can get, and she has a marketing degree—working in customer service would be a step down, right?

She clicks past the opportunity and keeps going.

Here’s what Kelsey doesn’t know—the company she just clicked past has a great marketing department. They’re great at the art of creating compelling content and building conversations with their customers. Not only that, but their leadership team is comprised of great mentors who are committed to their employee’s growth.

Marketing jobs are competitive. Lots of people want to be marketers, and there’s a high barrier to entry. Even if she hadn’t limited her options at all, the going would still be rough to break into the field.

Kelsey finally lands a basic marketing job crunching numbers in the backend for a company based in Portland. She’s making low wages and not doing the types of marketing work she actually loves, and the company isn’t very innovative, so there’s little room for growth.

If she’d taken the job in Raleigh, she would’ve been able to start using her marketing expertise to help out with side projects. She would’ve been spending her days learning about the customer inside and out, and when questions about reaching the customer came up, she would’ve been in a unique position to answer them, because she knew the customer almost better than anyone. She’d have become a valuable asset to the team and to the marketing department, and she would’ve quickly outgrown her entry-level role and moved into something far more customized and far more specialized.

Instead, she’s on a slow track that doesn’t lead much of anywhere, unless she makes a radical career move.

The best opportunities come from unexpected places.

In the above story, Kelsey’s prioritizing job status and location/lifestyle over her career.

Maybe that’s actually her hierarchy of desires—and that’s totally okay. But she’s adding false constraints to the pursuit of her goals, and limiting her options—literally.

Instead of taking the best opportunity out there, she’s taking the best opportunity that qualifies in her list of requirements.

Which brings me to the biggest career-limiting move I’ve seen people make: putting too many limitations on their expectations, which rules out (often a large number of) awesome opportunities.

Sometimes the best opportunities come in unexpected places. They aren’t always packaged the way you expect, and there are a lot of actually unimportant priorities you can place as part of your job hunt process that limit the places you’re working (and in so doing, limit your career).

Being too choosey about options too early is deadly.

“I only want to work in x type of role, or at x level”—and in so saying, not taking a great opportunity with tons of growth potential at an awesome company with great colleagues because it’s the wrong type of role, or looks like a step down on a resume.

Having priorities is good. Having preferences is good. You have to filter your searches for opportunities somehow. But don’t be afraid to entertain the unexpected possibilities, too, and to think about creative ways to get the things you want. Careers are rarely linear—and the most important thing, as Jim Rohn says, is,

“…not what you get, but what you become.”

Hannah Frankman is the Progam Manager at Praxis. She’s passionate about self-directed learning, shunning systems, and building a life you deeply love. Connect with her on Twitter—or subscribe to her newsletter here.

This post originally appeared as an answer on Quora.