As infants, we learn that star-shaped pegs fit only in the star-shaped holes.
So why do we backslide as adults and start thinking our star-shaped pegs should suddenly fit into square holes?
The analogy illustrates a challenge faced by many successful people.
I work with stealth job seekers. People who are ostensibly happy in their jobs, but open to change. Yet even sitting solidly in their leadership positions, they say things like:
A recruiter called and didn't like X about my background.
My friend told me my résumé was missing Y.
To which I say, "You might be missing the point. Your background and future career interests don't have to fit a recruiter's spec just because s/he called you."
In fact, thinking back to the thousands of people I called as a recruiter, odds were exceptionally low that the background of my prospect would be a fit. I had a long list of possibilities, but it was my job to find the right person. Only a handful on my list of 300-500 names would even make the first cut.
Even purple squirrels become purple squirrels when the right, oddly-precise opportunity comes along.
A needle in a haystack has more guarantee of being found! Recruiting didn't earn the headhunter nickname for nothing.
And as for what's missing on your résumé, how on earth can your friend know which parts of your background matter with respect to where you want to go in your career? YOU might not even know the answer to that question, so how can even the dearest, most trusted friend advise you about what should and should not appear on your résumé?
Here are some simple ways to start thinking about a shift in your career:
Be honest about where you'd be willing to go in your career.
Create a realistic list of things you require to make a move. While you're at, include your deal breakers.
Get real about what's feasible, and if you find technical gaps between your experience to date and where you want to go, decide if it makes sense (time-wise, economically) to fill those gaps.
Stop twisting yourself into a pretzel to meet the spec of every recruiter who comes along. Be grateful they came along in the first place, have a short and pleasant chat, and sit tight for the right opportunity when it surfaces.
Be your own person—know and be your brand. You'll attract the right opportunities. Opportunities that value the pieces of you and the skills that light you up. Opportunities that make you happy.
The more I do this work, the more I realize how many people grow in terms of skill, expertise, and seniority, but never move beyond the "Pick me! Pick me!" mentality that we all adopt as we leave college and head into the real world. If you're 15-25 years into your career, you're being sought and paid for how your leadership will impact a company, not the other way around.
Pithy blog posts and rant-filled articles—this one included, perhaps—do not, alone, represent the Holy Grail for your future, so stop trying to fit your star-shaped peg into square-shaped holes. Instead, start the hard work, decision-making, and preparation—hell, do a Job Description Analysis—necessary to architecting the right next step in your own career.