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I recently met a former colleague whom I worked with between 2003 and 2007 and jokingly asked him to offer me a job with his current employer. His response, “we do not have jobs in banking operations” though unexpected, did not surprise me. I decided to engage him further regarding my current skills and why I can fit in several other departments other than the one I worked in when we were colleagues. Though he appreciated my professional development over the years, he was not convinced that someone can learn and apply multiple skills during his or her career. His view was that someone needs to specialize within one function or line of skills in order to excel. To him even some skills such as strategy development and implementation or risk management which can be applied within different functions should be learnt within one function.

Our discussion reminded me of many internal job interviews I attended. On the few occasions where I was seeking a position in a different department, I faced pessimistic interviewers who doubted how I could for example learn credit analysis skills. This was despite the fact that I had learnt credit analysis as part of my banking diploma as well as attended refresher courses which included credit analysis. The most amusing of all was when, as an Operations Manager within a Branch, I applied for a Branch Manager position and an interviewer questioned my suitability due to lack of “practical” experience in credit despite the fact that I was a member of the branch credit committee.

The above experience was not limited to me alone. Many people have been conditioned to believe that they can excel in only one thing in life. For example, I recently interacted with June, an ex-banker who believes that she can only work within the credit function in a financial institution. Worse still, she believes that in terms of capacity building or training, she can only handle credit related matters. When I listen to her, I can tell that she was conditioned that way during her banking career and therefore views herself as a “Credit Professional” instead of a banker or a financial services professional. She never sought exposure in other banking functions and can hardly relate with what happens elsewhere within a bank.

Kim, another ex-banker, is the exact opposite of June. He believed that he can work anywhere within a bank. He therefore deliberately sought exposure in different banking functions. Over 22 years, he has worked in Finance, Audit, Risk Management, Operations and Corporate Finance. Notably, he had been hired as an accountant – a support function – but developed interest in banking business which moved him into operations and corporate finance. This wide exposure has helped him secure new jobs twice when one employer was placed in receivership while another one was taken over by a competitor.

The above conditioning also affects people in other fields for example where some people have been conditioned that they can only work as accountants since their first degree or professional qualification was in accounting. This is despite the dangers of career rigidity which include but is not limited to limitation of career options, risk of burnout, reduction of earning potential and career stagnation due to limited learning and personal development.

Career rigidity mostly works in organizations having rigid organizational structures and comes with has its own benefits. One benefit relates to ensuring that employees focus on a specific area of expertise, leading to greater efficiency and productivity in the workplace. It also makes structuring employee career paths. Design and delivery of training programs as well as succession planning are also made easier due to specialization.

Notably, its organizations that benefit from career rigidity while employees are the ones that face the risks. Personally I would rather have career flexibility of persons who successfully changed career either with or without retraining. Examples include Bank CEOs John Gachora and Jeremy Awori whose first degrees were in Engineering as well as Lawyer Dunstan Omari who successfully transitioned from teaching to the legal profession in his 40s.

Dr. Weru Mwangi is the CEO & Lead Consultant at Ultimate Management Solutions, a firm specializing in training & consultancy in Finance, Governance, Strategy, Risk Management and Leadership Development.  He can be contacted on weru@umslgroup.com  




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