Did you transition straight from college into your dream job and then spend the next decade moving smoothly up the corporate ladder? That’s what most of us thought would happen when we emerged butterfly-style from the chrysalis of our education.
Unfortunately, we had to find out for ourselves that careers don’t actually work that way.
The average woman takes on over 11 different roles during her career and that data only looks at women who are now in their late 50s. Based on current trends, that number will likely rise as we look at the careers of millennials and beyond. Not only are we changing jobs more often, but we’re also moving in and out of other types of work. More than half of the workforce is engaged in a side hustle, whether that’s managing a freelance business, driving for Uber, or just picking up some extra cash.
The good news is that we are past the days where women’s careers consisted of just a few choices. But along with the wealth of options and opportunities comes a more complex career path that can be more of a challenge to navigate.
The old model of career development was all about climbing the corporate ladder. You took your degree from BU or UMass, and you went looking for an entry-level job. Over the years, you worked your way up, gaining new responsibilities, and (ideally) a higher salary along the way. That old model has largely gone by the wayside today, because the average person changes not only jobs but also careers multiple times over the course of her working life.
There are no straight lines in career development today. In fact, the model we most often use when discussing career paths is the “lattice” model, or what I call the career jungle gym. Picture a playground with a big jungle gym in the middle. You can start from anywhere, and there are many paths from one side to the other. Instead of having to follow a defined set of steps from point A to point B, you can choose your own adventure.
When you sit down to write your resume, don’t cringe because your career doesn’t follow a perfectly straight line. Not only are your diverse experiences an asset, but they also give you raw materials to craft your pitch so you can go after your next opportunity.
Navigating your career today is more complicated, so you’ll need to think a little differently about how you present yourself, and how you manage your professional life. Here are some tips for those of us (which is most of us) who don’t have a straight-line career:
Think ‘Bio,’ Not ‘Resume’
When you’re looking for a “normal” job, your resume is your ticket to apply. But a standard resume format (usually a chronological listing of every job you’ve ever held) doesn’t do a great job of telling a story. Use a bio format to highlight the specific skills that matter to prospective clients.
Never Stop Learning
If you think you can stop learning just because you’re out of school, it’s probably time to think again. Today’s jobs are creative, and technology is bringing us new ideas and new tools every day. Be a lifelong learner, and if your company doesn’t offer professional development, go out and find ways to learn on your own.
Be Open to New Experiences
While classroom learning is great, being able to apply that learning in the real world is even more important. There are opportunities to expose yourself to new ideas all around you. Ask to join a project or be part of a committee. Find ways to try new things, even things that scare you. Expand your own comfort zone.
The best part about the jungle gym or lattice model, as opposed to the old ladder model, is that there are many ways to define success. Making it to the top is not the only option. You can find a career that fits with your own life goals and preferences, rather than being pushed into a one-size-fits-all concept of what success looks like.
As you work your way through your career, imagine you’re wearing a backpack. Every experience, every skill, every client you work with becomes a tool you can add to your backpack. You’re not weird for having a variety of jobs and experiences; in fact, in today’s economy, you’re not just normal, you’re ahead of the curve!