4 Tips for Navigating a Non-linear Career Path

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We are living in the age of the “episodic career,” where the focus is less about reaching a specific long-term career goal and more about taking the opportunity to explore and grow as an individual. Many people in the workforce find that they want to try multiple industries before they settle down on a single path, or maybe switch directions from their original post-grad route.

But can a non-linear career trajectory really prove to be successful in the long run? There are a few reasons that an out-of-the-box path might be preferable:

  • Hiring managers are looking for well-rounded candidates to fill out their team, especially at the leadership level. For example, consultants say that when it comes to a CFO, clients want someone who has made a lateral move into marketing or operations because of the larger business perspective it gives them for decision-making.
  • If you’re looking at a quickly-evolving industry such as tech, it’s never too late to get your foot in the door. The truth of the matter is that even the most experienced tech professionals often go back to the classroom themselves to stay up-to-date on the latest innovations. Start studying the newest innovations at the same time as they do, and you’ll be right on track.
  • Are you currently running your own business and unsure if you can make the switch into something more traditional? Don’t worry – you’re in great company. Many massive companies, including Shopify and Facebook, have sought out entrepreneurs specifically for their unique skill sets. 

Feeling like an unconventional trajectory might be right for you? Read on for our best tips on navigating the road less traveled.

Mind your mindset

To be successful in an unconventional career path, you must be prepared to think unconventionally. Without the clearly defined goalposts that a linear career provides, you have to be able to measure and evaluate your own progress. For example, if you’ve made a sideways move between industries, it’s possible that your job title won’t be the best indicator of how far you’ve come. Instead, consider if you’ve found your happiness increasing or if your new ventures better match your ideal lifestyle.

Additionally, it can’t be overstated that you need the right mindset for success. A common pitfall while pursuing an alternative route is getting caught up in what you “should” be doing. While it’s tempting to compare yourself to your peers and their clear-cut moves from VP to SVP, remember to have faith in yourself and be proud of the fact that you’re forging a new path. If the nagging voice in your head gets a little too loud, remind yourself that with a non-linear journey, success won’t happen overnight. Keep your confidence that any potential misstep is only an opportunity to grow and learn further.

Build your network

Of course, nobody gets where they’re going on their own. Just because you’re taking a less conventional approach to your career doesn’t mean you have to figure it out solo. Growing your professional network can not only provide you with potential connections to your next step, but it can also leave you with a feeling of camaraderie and support. A great way to start finding your peers is to join groups on LinkedIn related to your industry or long-term goals.

Develop your skillset

It may seem obvious, but we would be remiss not to mention that one of the best ways to travel smoothly across industries or titles is to develop your transferable skills. This is a great way to have that sideways mobility that can round out your experience. While it may seem like a significant endeavor, look on the bright side: you probably have more transferable skills than you know! For example, while your stint as a barista may not have previously been on your resume, it could actually be a great example of your time management skills in customer-oriented environments.

Find your throughline

No matter how varied your career path is, there will always be one remarkable, constant variable: you! As you think about the next steps in your journey, take a look back at what you’ve experienced so far, and see if there’s a common thread woven through the positions you enjoyed the most. Defining your throughline can help you solidify your personal goals and prepare to sell your experience to potential employers. If you can see a logical trajectory, so can they. A great way to identify your throughline is to think of your career as a book – with lots still unwritten, of course. What would the plot of your book be, or what are the common themes? This is a great way to start thinking of your career trajectory as a cohesive experience.

If you’re thinking that an unconventional career path might be the right choice for you, start considering your first steps. One of the best ways to find guidance on your career path is to connect with an experienced recruiting firm. They can help you take the next step in your career journey, non-linear or not!

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