Don’t Fence Me In: Make Your Career Bigger Than a Job Title

Humans have a long history of trying to categorize things that ought not to be categorized. Chiefly among them is humans.

Some instances of this are benign, like the ludicrous assumption that you must be exclusively a cat person or a dog person, or either a Star Wars fan or a Trekkie (hello, J.J. Abrams). Other times, it’s more harmful. There are a lot of implications that come with definitively labeling people as masculine or feminine, or confining them into economic classes (think French Revolution or any young adult dystopian novel ever).

The same rigid classification exists in the traditional view of careers. Think back to college when you were carefully selecting a major that would carry over to your lifelong occupation. You probably changed majors at least once; if not, you certainly knew people who did. And it’s no wonder—careers are traditionally stringent, requiring you to focus on one thing and stick to it if you ever want to advance. We’ve all heard the old adage, “jack of all trades, master of none.” Choosing between all of your interests to pinpoint just one might have felt remarkably like choosing the right grail to drink out of in Indiana Jones.


“You must choose…but choose wisely.” –Grail Knight

Fortunately, for young professionals today, the landscape is broadening. By now, you know that your major hardly dictated your identity in the workplace. What you may not realize, though, is that neither does your job. The term career now embodies a great deal more than simply a job title. Millennials are finding new ways to creatively expand their careers beyond the label of their current positions. This is just as well, since they are also changing career trajectories more frequently, both between different jobs and even different industries. Here are 5 ways to make sure your career transcends your job title:

1.   Freelance.

It’s on the rise in the workplace, and Millennials are at the height of that growth, with 38% of workers under 35 freelancing. Technology is making it easier to find extra work, and the best part about this is that it doesn’t have to mean doing more of the same job. If you are a young professional today, you were new to the workplace or about to enter it when the Great Recession struck in 2007-2009. Jobs were sparse, and that’s still recovering. You probably don’t have the exact position you hope to land as your dream job one day. You may not even be in the right field yet. But by freelancing with the talents and passions for which you don’t have an outlet in your current job, you gain valuable experience while broadening your career. It’s now perfectly legitimate to include freelance work as part of your professional identity both on social media profiles and in face-to-face networking. You’re doing professional work in your freelance area, so claim it.

2.   Market your career.

Presence is now just as important as the actual work you do when it comes to defining your career. Listing your experience on your resume is no longer enough; you should have a digital footprint that verifies it. In some fields, this means keeping an ongoing portfolio on a personal website. In others, it’s as simple as staying active and engaged on relevant social media. Share the work project you just finished online with your personal contacts. Repost the article you read about change in your field, and even comment on it. If someone looks you up online, it shouldn’t be difficult to figure out what you do for a living.

3.   Add at least one duty to every job you hold.

Instead of having a static job, have an exploratory career. There is always something extra you can bring to the company that employs you. Find it.

Maybe you’re skilled at creating social media content at a company with a weak social presence. Perhaps you have a gift for proofreading or training customers on products, or you enjoy taking photos and your company doesn’t have any updated images on Google Business. You may have to try offering a few different suggestions to your manager before you find an area where it makes sense strategically for your company, but there is somewhere you can add value beyond what you were hired to do. Not only does this give you a wider range of experience, but it also shows that you are adaptable, a prized trait in today’s changing climate.

4.  Bring your hobbies to work.

No one wants to talk to a person who only knows one thing—the odds are immensely against it being anything of interest. You have interests beyond work, so show them. If you’re working on a blog or building a DIY farm-style table, don’t keep it to yourself. Eclectic interests provide the entryway for personal connections. Not only will showing your true self in full color at work allow you to better network with your colleagues, but it may also lead to freelance or job opportunities. The more interesting you are, the more marketable.

5.   Keep learning.

It’s a mistake to think that someone who is a “jack of all trades” is a “master of none.” Learning is not a zero-sum occupation. You can grow professionally and learn new skills without sacrificing your other areas of expertise. In fact, it’s beneficial to your career. There’s a growing need in the workplace to demonstrate adaptability. Having a career throughout which you have updated your skills exhibits just that. Don’t feel like you have to pick only one of your strengths and focus on it alone. Entertain all of your skills, and learn new ones.

Your job title shouldn’t be a label that confines you to one category of professional work. There are a growing number of ways to expand your career into something beyond your current role. Your career should be as unique as you are, utilizing all of your talents and skills and gaining new ones along the way. So don’t feel pressured to specialize in just one thing. If Michelangelo had stuck to his specialty (sculpting), the Sistine Chapel as we know it would not exist. Keep finding ways to add to your professional identity, and your career will become much more than a job.


Originally published on Young Professionals Nashville.