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Forget the straight and narrow. The winding career path is where it's at!

Think your career is meant to be clean, shiny ladder that you climb step-by-step until you hit the top? We’re sorry to squash it, but this idea of a “linear career path” – focussed on constantly moving up in power and work status over time – is old news and old thinking.

If your work history has taken a few random or sharp turns, you’re totally normal. Even Sheryl Sandberg, a top dog at Facebook and author of the bestselling book Lean In, said to a group of university graduates, “If I had mapped out my career when I was sitting where you are, I would have missed it.” How’s that for evidence!  With that in mind, we think it’s safe to say: buckle up, relax and enjoy the ride, wherever it goes! 

Get comfortable with the idea that things are always changing and open your mind to the thought of a non-linear career – that’s one that winds around, takes dips and turns, and often ends up somewhere you couldn’t have imagined at the start. 

These types of careers are sometimes called “episodic careers” (coined by journalist and author Farai Chideya) because the experiences and jobs you have are broken into shorter, distinct episodes. Rather than spending 30 years working for the same company, you might switch jobs and even industries up to 15 times during your working life.  We all know that a good TV show is made up of a bunch of different episodes where the characters change, shift, and grow. It makes sense the same could be true of your working life. 

You hear it all the time, but  the world of work is changing every day. Think about it: jobs are out there now that didn’t even exist a few years ago. Grocery packers and delivery drivers. Meal kit preparation and delivery services. Online shopping services. Coders. App developers. The list goes on.

Industries are constantly adapting to new technology and customer needs and respond to the changes that shift their workforces. Why shouldn’t you? Staying a step ahead means that you won’t be blindsided by a major change in your industry, and it also means you could find a job you love even more along the way! It’s a win-win situation.

Hopefully by now you have let go of the shackles of a straight career path and embraced the curvy? Here are 5 ways to get ahead as you follow a less conventional route.

  1. ID your skills – and transfer them!

    Think back to a time when you really loved what you were doing – it could be a project in school, a summer job working at a dairy, or even an unpaid volunteer gig?

    Don’t get too worried about the role itself, and instead think about what you actually did. Were you working outside? Did you move around a lot or were you sitting at a desk? Were you selling something? Interacting with people? Did you have predictable routines or was every day different? 

    You might start to see some patterns: maybe all of your favorite jobs involved a lot of variety–even if they were in totally different industries.

    Now think about what you learned at each of those jobs. Did you learn how give a great sales pitch while on a short-term placement? Management skills while running a team of teenagers flipping burgers for the summer? Inventory systems management while stocking the shelves at Countdown?

    Get clear on the skills you’ve gathered through the years, and how to communicate them when interviewing for your next career move.
  2. Collect experiences, not just promotions

    If you get too stuck on just getting your next promotion, it’s easy to find yourself pigeonholed. Sure, you might be a few rungs up the ladder, but are you moving in a direction that you actually want to go?

    Rather than just working for your next promotion, think about collecting experiences. This can come in many forms, and it’s not limited to your job! Putting yourself in many different types of situations might spark your imagination or inspire you to try something new. Volunteering to run an event at your community art centre might get you thinking about switching to a more creative field and its diversity to your skill-set.

    These experiences could very well lead to a new job, but even if they don’t, they’ll shape you into a more interesting person!
  3. Think about the hands you shake. Up your networking game!

    As the old saying goes, “It’s not about the grades you make, it’s the hands you shake.” Ask most people how they got their job and they’ll tell you a story about someone who helped them get there. This is especially true if you’re switching industries or starting out in a new field.
    • Talk about your plans with many different kinds of people – let them know what you’re hoping to do. One conversation could be a game-changer!
    • Make a list of people you know in the field you’re hoping to go into, or people who are connected to it somehow. Get in touch with them and listen to how they got to where they are. People who love their jobs love helping others get into their industry!
    • Attend free events and expos where you can introduce yourself to potential employers.
  4. Be willing to go backward to move forward

    If you’ve decided to make a sideways jump to a new career or industry, it might feel like a step backward. Maybe you’ve always been a truck driver, but after doing some DIY work at your parent’s house you decide to train as a builder. Going back to study, completing an apprenticeship or taking a lower-paying job in an industry you’d like to move forward in takes sacrifice, but a bit of short-term pain can lead to long-term gain!

    To decide if the change is worth it, think strategically about the steps required for you to get there:
    • How long will it take?
    • How will you pay for it?
    • How will you juggle your current commitments?
    • What opportunities will it bring you in the long run?

    If you decide to make a change that requires more study, there are tons of resources available to help you get there.

  5. Stay flexible

    If you hit a bump in the road, it might be a gift in disguise. New jobs can come in the form of accidents–that turn into happy ones. If you’re running into dead-ends in your current career, keep your eyes open. Talk to friends and former colleagues. Zooming out to look at your life from a big-picture perspective might help you see something you’ve missed while focusing on your day-to-day role. If you stay openminded, great things could be just around the corner!

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