For the first ten years of my career, I did product development and operations at an electronic publisher. Before the Internet. Explaining what I did was very hard. (It would be a lot easier now). When I started looking at other career options, I found that there were a limited number of electronic publishers in the country and none of them were within 100 miles of where I lived. If I wanted to work at another company, my options were pretty limited. I looked at job postings (again, before the Internet) and I couldn’t find anyone looking for anything remotely similar to what I did.
The fact that my company was being sold made me realize that I needed to figure out ways to open up more opportunities. The way I did it was to examine the positions within my company that existed in other companies in my community–human resources, organization development, strategy, government relations, fulfillment, and customer service. I looked at ways that I could get more experience in those areas so that I could market myself to other companies. Luckily, I didn’t get swept up in the layoffs associated with the sale of the company. Also, I was lucky that my company was open to me getting experiences in other departments. I acquired enough experience to make myself credible in a number of different positions.
Then Broaden Them Some More
Today, if I wanted to genericize myself, I would do it differently. I would become an expert who is broad and deep in a subject area that expands beyond inside-organization jobs to external contractors and consultants. These would be jobs like Project Managers, Program Managers, experts in ERP systems, global operations or social media marketing. These would expand the opportunities to reflect the way job opportunities exist now–inside and outside companies.
And Then Some More
At the same time that you are building your skills to make you credible across companies/industries/delivery models, you should be building your brand as a complete player in your area of expertise. If you want to go to the top you also will have to make it all fit together. Your understanding and performance at that point will have to be broader than it is deep.
All of this requires that you look beyond today’s job to tomorrow’s job and beyond.