I find that pigeonholing within the business world is very often an essential part of a deeper need to define, qualify, and assess risk. The instant categorizing of a person fits very conveniently into the ‘split-second thinking’ prevalent in the workplace where time is limited and there’s a constant quest for efficiency. This invariably means an individual is labelled, and in doing so challenges each of us to consider how we may be categorized by others, and therefore how should we define ourselves? And how do we want others to define us?
The ‘Unique Selling Proposition’ (USP) coined in the 1960’s by Rosser Reeves, has been the mainstay of marketing professionals for decades – a mechanism that differentiates a product or service from its competition, where the uniqueness and core benefits of the proposition are condensed into a pithy, understandable idea , wrapped in a highly memorable description or tag line. Anyone who’s attended a networking event in recent years will have noticed that many start-ups and small businesses are learning about this, and features strongly in the guidance from ‘personal branding’ advisors who recommend the usefulness of a USP to individuals when they position themselves, and differentiate their proposition in the marketplace. I have to admit that although I applaud people learning to define themselves by the benefits they deliver, I do laugh and pull back slightly from those who bound up to me and say things like “Hi, I’m Frank ‘The SEO expert that helps farmers succeed online’ with my company SEO EI EIO”. It reminds me of giving a dog a brightly coloured sex toy, who’s very excited to have it but doesn’t really know what it’s for.
Recruiters, I find to be the biggest culprits of pigeonholing. I don’t blame them personally, it’s just how their industry works and given there are always more candidates than roles, and job requirements are always changing, it’s convenient to whittle down applicants to a type – so the candidate either fits the new job role available or they don’t – quick, easy, efficient. However, pigeonholing candidates by industry or sector in which they’re currently or have recently been employed can be limiting and not truly representative of what a person can contribute. From personal experience, I’ve met those who have sidestepped this limitation and successfully introduced valuable lessons learned from one industry to another and brought about a welcome change – upgraded marketing approaches, improved return on investment, profitability, competitive advantage, and even business culture – but they’ve only been able to achieve this by constantly evolving beyond the limitations of their current situation and developing new skills, experience, and redefining what they bring to the table.
So, where do we go from here? I’d suggest, turn pigeon-holing to your advantage. Get used it to it, be smart, and start pro-actively managing yourself so you define how you want to be perceived – in a nutshell, become smarter at marketing yourself. Utilise the social media channels and the myriad of tweet up gatherings to engage the right people in the right conversations. I can vouch that this opens up many new doors, and can successfully introduce you into the environments in which you want to be involved. Different audiences will appreciate different aspects of your personality, so be prepared to define yourself appropriately so you’re relevant to each of those audiences, and if that means wearing a selection of many different hats so be it. Afterall, if people are going to pigeonhole you, you might as well be defined in a way that’s valued by others and in turn helps you achieve your goals.