Your career doesn’t have to be moving up to mean it’s growing and progressing. Here’s why.

Career progression and success in the past has often been thought of in terms of gaining a promotion or title that signifies another rung on the career ladder has been climbed. But the work world is changing, and gradual, linear gains to the ‘top’ aren’t the reality anymore. Organizations need leaders who have a wider range of experience that the traditional career pathway doesn’t often afford. 

In my book, The Inequality Equalizer, and throughout my years of experience, I’ve advised professionals to take those ‘sideways’ and ‘diagonal’ opportunities too, gathering what unique skills and experiences they can because those non-linear positions can often lead you to the next best step for your career. 

A recent blog post from Korn Ferry addresses this strategy, referring to it as the career lattice, a term that clearly illustrates the idea of advancing a career through all sorts of directions. The blog post says, “Companies have delayered and the world has become more complex and diverse. Organizations now need leaders with a breadth of experience that can’t be found traveling up the rungs of a narrow career ladder. And they need them to acquire these skills quickly.” The blog post also says that just because progress isn’t in a direct line doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be planned. The post calls for Companies to optimise their development and education programs and to provide support for creating strategic career moves that prepare leaders for future roles while also boosting their chances of success.

There are a lot of factors at play when it comes to this change in the world of work. Technology and globalized business have changed where and how work is done, and that will continue to change as technology advances. A leader’s skills and experience need to reflect this diversity, and it’s becoming harder and harder to find that diversity on just one single career ladder. 

An article from The Atlantic discusses this shift in the work world, describing it as a focus on skillful transitions and transferable skills. The article says it’s all about “skill sets that prove to be relevant across a variety of job sectors—team management and customer service, for instance—create opportunities for people to be hired but also open new avenues for advancement within that company.” The article contains an interview with Lauren Laitin, Founder and Principal of Parachute Coaching, a career and leadership coaching firm that specializes in preparing job candidates who are facing significant career switches. According to the article, Laitin says the key is helping workers see the connections in their own lives and the episodes that link all kinds of experiences that also highlight transferable skills. An excerpt from the article says, “‘Develop a clear, honest story about why this transition makes sense.’ She says employers want to know two things: ‘That you’ll be able to do the job and that you are going to love it. The more your story can answer those questions, the less concerned an employer will be in saying yes, even if the transition is unconventional.’”

Even before the pandemic, nonlinear career paths were gaining traction. A 2019 article from Forbes highlighted three ways that people can make their nonlinear career paths move in their favor. The article says, “Many of us were led to believe that to be successful our careers should follow a logical and predictable path. Our well-meaning parents, teachers and advisors strongly encouraged us to pick a lane, earn a practical degree (or maybe two), and get a job. From there, we should work hard and over the years, advance up the ranks at that company.” The article then asks the question, what do you do when you find yourself wanting to deviate from that formula? The article advises readers to lose the guilt and shame from stepping off the ladder, think of a career in terms of seasons, and find the common threads that you can weave together to make your unique career story. The article writer, Amy Blaschka, says, “Some of the most interesting and successful people I know have found a way to make their varied experience work for them. Instead of talking about their journey as jumping from gig to gig, they find the common thread that connects the dots of their career—and quickly becomes their point of differentiation.” 

Look for the dots to connect in your experience, assess the skills that you have, and don’t be afraid to jump off that ladder.