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Struggling With the Shut Door

Take a Chance on Great People: Part I

This article is a two part series.

  • Part I: I will speak to the challenge of finding a shut door in your career and how you can move past it to achieve your career goals.

  • Part II: I will provide guidance for leaders who are looking to elevate the people around them.

The Chicken vs. Egg Dilemma

Many of the people I work with struggle with the chicken vs. egg dilemma in their careers.

It sounds something like:

They want me to have leadership experience to get a leadership role, but how can I get leadership experience without a leadership role?

This dilemma makes moving up, or changing roles, feel impossible. In my article about interviewing, I call out how companies want assurance you’ve done the work before, and that you’ve been successful at it.

But what if you’ve never done the work before?

The honest truth is that if you’ve never done something before, most people will pass over you in favor of someone with a track record of success.

The Magical Track Record

If having no relevant experience means most people will discount you, the opposite is also true, whether you like it or not.

My sophomore year of college, I was invited to a luncheon where the academic supervisory team talked through the grant/fellowship application process. My key takeaway (beyond the fact that I lacked the level of “passion” needed to win anything) was that selecting the best is hard, and that the selectors get lazy.

The speaker was highlighting how critical it is to get some form of recognition on your resume, which you can use to get more and more recognition. They mentioned it is much easier for someone to win a fellowship if they’ve already won a previous one.

At first, this seemed crazy. I mean, who needs TWO fellowships? But the more I thought about it, the more I understood.

Why is someone with Harvard on their resume more sought after in the job market? Is it because the education received is so much better? Possibly. But it is also because everyone knows that it is hard to get into Harvard. If someone went to Harvard, they must have passed a rigorous selection process already. This makes the job of hiring managers so much easier, because they can justify their choice based on someone else making the same judgement already.

How to Move Past a Shut Door

So you find yourself missing the magical track record. How do you get past it?

1. Try Harder than Other People

A friend of mine told me a story about one of his new hires. The candidate had a lackluster background and no experience in the field, which meant he wasn’t selected through any traditional recruiting processes.

Instead, he was more persistent. He reached out to numerous employees multiple times. He followed up. He made sure he couldn’t be ignored.

And when he was finally brought in for an interview? People knew who he was, which made him stand out in the crowd.

How to do it in your own career:

If you’re trying to make a jump into a new field, or level up, expect rejection. Plan to send out more resumes, do more interviews, and reach out to more people to get the job. Volume actually matters.

2. Don’t Compete in the First Place

I had a conversation with a self-employed photographer who made a lot of her money by speaking at conferences. Her sessions would break down a specific concept of photography so that aspiring and practicing photographers would be able to learn her techniques.

When she first started applying for speaking positions, she received many rejections. It wasn’t until she put forward a niche topic proposal that someone took a chance on her.

It wasn’t that she beat out more seasoned speakers. Instead, she found an area where there weren’t any seasoned speakers to compete against.

How to do it in your own career:

Identify what unique perspective you have to offer, and create a story around it that you can use to get in the door. Trying to jump from classroom teaching to client management? Highlight how your lesson planning and presentation experience will allow you to create high quality training guides for user adoption. Suddenly your non-traditional experience is an asset instead of a roadblock.

3. Do the Work for Free

It’s much easier to get the job when you are free labor! When I first started as a career coach, I didn’t have the experience to charge a fee. I offered my services to colleagues, friends, and acquaintances for free. This trial period was critical to my success. It helped build up the experience and track record I needed to pursue the work more fully.

How to do it in your own career:

If you’re still in school, get an internship! Yes, it will make your summer less fun, but you’ll get to try things no one would be willing to pay you for yet. If an internship isn’t realistic because you need a paying job, sign up for a club or take on leadership in your sports team. Free experience is still experience.

If you’re out of school, why not volunteer? Or ask your sister/friend/uncle if you can help out with their side hustle for the experience?

4. Lean on People Who Know You

As a 23 year old, I applied for a management position at the company I was already working at. Many companies would have passed over me, but my leadership at the time decided to let me give it a go. It wasn’t because I’d run teams before or had a rockstar resume.

The key was, I wasn’t asking strangers to take a chance on me. I was making an appeal to people who already knew and believed in me.

How to do it in your own career:

Look for internal promotion or try to switch job functions within the organization you already work for. You’ll be in an environment where people know you and are more willing to accept your atypical background if you’ve done high-quality work.


The truth is that getting in the door is the hardest part, but after you create a reputation, it’s much easier to ride out that success.


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