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Explore the world of squiggly careers

As recruiters we’ve seen chops and changes in the directions career paths take over the years. It used to be that, as an employee, you started on the bottom rung of the corporate ladder. As you gained experience and knowledge, you moved to the next step. The idea behind this linear process was that eventually you’d move right to the top.

But does this model still apply? Many experts say no, especially in a post-COVID work world.

This expert article was inspired by a Ted Talk focusing on the “squiggly career path”. Ted Talk says squiggling means moving left, right, up, down and around on your career path, learning along the way.

Indeed, it’s rare these days to hear of an employee staying with one organisation throughout their career, slowly but surely plodding their way up the traditional corporate ladder. In their Ted Talk, career development consultants Sarah Ellis and Helen Tupper invite you to work on a “squiggly” career—dynamic, open-ended growth paths tailor-made for your individual needs, talents and ambitions.

So how to you learn to squiggle?

Think creatively

Think about what you love to do and what you’d love to try. Then work on achieving just that. Don’t be held back by traditional concepts. Just because you’ve worked in finance, doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be excellent in marketing or in human resources. Just because you’ve spent years in the public service, doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be amazing in the private sector or in a not-for-profit organisation.

In today’s modern work world, people change careers regularly. Sometimes they do so in the same organisation and sometimes they branch out and work for someone else.

Here are tips on how to start a new career you love.

Be ambitious

Think big and be ambitious. If you want to be a CEO, go for it, but think laterally about how to get there. What skills and attributes do you need? How can you squiggle one way or another to start building your CEO capabilities?

Let’s talk leadership. CEOs should be good at it. So if you want to be at the top of an organisation, why not start developing your leadership skills now? This could through a more formal route, like a uni degree. Or it could be more informal, like reading leadership books and listening to leadership podcasts. Perhaps you want to hook up with a mentor who has fantastic leadership skills and will learn from them.

Take your personal learning seriously

Many employees believe learning is an organisation’s responsibility. You may believe it’s your organisation’s role to sit with you and work out a development plan. We’re not saying this isn’t a good thing, but you can also take charge of your own learning and development.

Again, this could be through formal education, but you’ll learn heaps in other ways if you put your mind to it. Ted Talks are great. Online short courses are quick ways to pick up skills. Attending workshops and conferences are super learning opportunities. Remember, the more you complement what your employer is providing, the more you’ll learn and develop and the faster you’ll squiggle along your career path.

Here are seven ways to upskill for future.

Be prepared to give up title for happiness

The career ladder model focuses a lot on important-sounding titles. Each step up the ladder earn you a title that sounds bigger and bolder than the last one you had.

Squiggly careers are full of possibility. They aren’t based on “one-size-fits all” but rather radically rethink what success means. They aren’t as restrictive. So, think about moving to a policy role if that’s where you want to be. If you’re tired of policy and want to be more hand’s on, seek a role that’s more project-management based.

Also think about your transferrable skills, which are more important than ever before.

Don’t be afraid

It used to be that employees who moved from one job to another and from one organisation to another were frowned upon. They were seen as “unsettled” and “unfocused” and “impatient”. Today, however, it’s normal to have many different careers … some experts say an average of five throughout your working life.

Ask yourself what career opportunities you’re curious about. This will help you understand how to use your strengths in new ways and spot the skills you might require for your future.

Let’s say you’re interested in the world of cyber security. You might be thinking, however, that because you’re not an IT nerd, this industry doesn’t have opportunities for you. This is far from the truth. Cyber security, like most industries in today’s complex world, need a wide range of experts from many disciplines, including policy, risk management, stakeholder engagement, expert project planning and even marketing.

Read more about cyber security.

Special note: Thanks to Sarah Ellis and Helen Tupper, founders of Amazing If, for inspiring this expert article. It’s worth watching their Ted Talk on squiggly careers.

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