When Being The Best Employee Backfires

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unnamedIllustrated by Julia Sadler.
I've been working at my current job for a year, am actively taking on extra projects, and have put myself forward for consideration for two separate research positions, only to not be considered for either. I have a master's degree relevant to the research and am at least as qualified as the men they're hiring for these roles.

My supervisor knows I would like to go into a research role but keeps holding me back, and I have to constantly remind her (and our HR department) that I am almost 30 (I look very young), have an advanced degree, and several years of experience. How can I get taken seriously? Are going back to school or finding a new job my only options?

— Amelia, Idaho


It sounds as if you are doing all of the right things to jostle your way into a new role that interests you. Unfortunately, for some reason there is a perception that you’re not a good fit for these jobs. If you're the best at your job, maybe your supervisor is concerned you'll be hard, if not impossible, to replace. Bottom line: Your company has put you in a certain box and is now reluctant to let you out.

I would combat all this by proactively incorporating research tasks into your current responsibilities so you can showcase concrete experience and results. Interview people who have the jobs you want and learn how their success is measured and the qualities that are necessary to hone. Build strong personal relationships within the research department so the next time a position opens up, you will naturally be considered. The idea, after all, is to be tapped before the HR department even gets involved.

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If you've done all of these things and you still feel blocked from the research position you desire, expand your horizons outside your current organization. Network prolifically in third-party research organizations and conferences and via individuals on LinkedIn. You may need to look elsewhere to fulfill your career dreams.

Don't worry about going back to school unless you can definitively determine that an advanced degree beyond a master's is essential for entry into this type of research job. Note the level of education held by individuals working in the roles you want. Focus on increasing your research-oriented skills and your knowledge of specific tasks rather than the degree itself.

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