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How to Avoid the Professional Pigeonhole in Sales and Marketing

How to Avoid the Professional Pigeonhole in Sales and Marketing
One of the key concerns I hear from people is that while they’ve reached a level of seniority in their current industry, they’re worried about getting pigeonholed when taking their next step. They are often eager to explore other functions or industries, but without relevant experience from earlier on in their career, it means taking a drastic pay cut or a backwards step just to get into the industry or role they want.

So how do you ensure you don’t pigeonhole yourself professionally? If you’re a few years into your career and wondering what move should you make next, read on.

Be Strategic and Work Backwards

If your career journey is important to you, the earlier you start thinking about it the better. You are the navigator and it’s a good idea to take ownership of it and be actively involved in the path it takes from the very get-go. So where do you begin?

Imagine you’re reading the latter chapters of your career story. What do they look like? Where do you see yourself? Not everybody wants to end up as a Sales Director or the Head of Marketing, but so often there’s an assumption that everyone wants those same career end-points. We all have different long-term goals or perhaps we’re unsure, and still figuring out what we enjoy and excel at. Taking charge of your career story increases the likelihood of you being passionate about what you do (which we all know is critical for sales and marketing people) and enjoying the journey.

Considering your career goals early on means you’re able to be strategic about the roles you take along the way. For example, a Progressive Account Manager eventually wanting to be a Sales Director may choose to take a sidestep into field sales or Foodstuffs account management as that on-the-ground sales experience will be so valuable for them further down the track. Being aware of what you want and where you want to go allows you to identify good opportunities when you see them.

What’s more, thinking about the timing of moves in essential. I often have very experienced advertising professionals approach me about making the switch into marketing, but making the move can also mean a massive salary drop.

So, consider the things you enjoy and the things you don’t. This will give you an idea of what you want long-term. Once you’ve figured that out, look to see what it’s going to take to get to your goal.

If you’re unsure about the steps to take, speaking to a recruiter can help you to be more strategic in your approach. They know the general career paths people take for different roles, and can help you outline what is required to achieve your goals.

Define Your Skill Gaps & Fill Them

Do your research on what the end goal requires, then work out the steps and skills needed to get you there. Remember, in today’s market, a well-rounded candidate will always have the advantage over someone with a more limited background. Employers want people with a breadth of industry knowledge, and within different functions. So, make the effort early on to gain exposure to different areas, within your sector and outside of it. Be a sponge and get familiar with the roles and responsibilities of those you work with. For instance, if you have senior marketing aspirations, but have only worked on market leading brands, consider working on a challenger brand, to really round out your experience. Often it can be easier to do this by taking a sideways move within your existing company for a period of time.

Additionally, talk to people within your company or the broader industry who have the knowledge, or better yet, engage a mentor. Most people are eager to share their expertise and pass on the things they’ve learned.

Stay Relevant

Other ways to compensate for gaps in your skills and experience is by keeping abreast of change in the industry, remaining relevant, alert to opportunities and networking effectively. It really is so important to build up knowledge and keep your finger on the professional pulse. Marketing is continually changing, and you need to be on top of your game to remain competitive. Stay in touch with colleagues and industry peers, attend networking groups and meet-ups. LinkedIn is another great way to stay up-to-date. Perhaps you can look to upskill if you’ve been in your role for some time e.g. Marketers consider doing a digital course or start a blog.

Define Your Transferable Skills

Even if you’ve only held one or two roles in the last five years, you would’ve picked up a lot of knowledge and understanding. Think about what you do on a day-to-day basis and the skills that might be transferable to other roles or industries. Are you going for a marketing role but have a background in sales? Sell your strengths, strong understanding of the customer, hands-on experience getting customers across the line, and you know how to influence field team.

When to Make the Move

I’m often asked when the best time is to move jobs. The general rule of thumb is that you need a good 18 months in a role to learn it, then prove you’ve mastered it. Let people in your organisation know where you want to go, and your plan to get there. It’s a lot easier to move sideways within your current company, than it is to convince an unknown entity to take a punt on you. Plus, you’re more likely to hold your salary!

Be proactive, and don’t wait until you’re really unhappy; it’s obvious to others, both within your company and when you’re sitting in front of recruiters or prospective employers.


If you don’t know where you’re going you’ll wind up somewhere else, so lead your career versus being led. Take ownership, consider what you want, and start making the right moves to achieve your long-term career goals.

If you wish to discuss your long-term career strategy, or are looking for your next opportunity in Marketing or Sales, get in contact today.
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