It used to be that people would map out their careers in a very linear fashion. For example, let’s say you wanted to be a lawyer. You would plan to go to good schools, land a job with a top firm, and in several years, work your way up to partner. But things don’t always turn out as planned. Maybe you get your law degree but can’t pass the bar exam. Or you join a top firm and get laid off after a year or two because of declining profits and rising expenses. You might even become a lawyer only to discover after a few years that it’s not your passion. What then? That’s where non-linear career paths come into play.
A non-linear career path is different from job hopping. Job hopping implies that you’re moving from role to role indiscriminately. These people are viewed as flaky and unreliable. When we talk about non-linear career paths, they are intentional. Your career may not follow a straight line, but there’s still a bit of planning involved.
As employers and employees face an ever-changing job market, non-linear career paths are becoming the new normal. Here are some reasons why.
People are working longer
According to the World Health Organization, by 2030, 1 in 6 people will be 60 years or over. By 2050, that number is expected to double. With individuals living longer, the traditional 40-year career will slowly become a thing of the past. Instead, the 60-year career is much more likely. But for people to remain in the workforce for that long, they will need to find satisfying roles so they don’t burn out. Very few people will want to stay in the same job for 60 years. Not to mention the fact that needs and interests change over time. That means non-linear career paths that require lifelong learning and skill enhancement will become much more common.
Values and priorities have changed
There’s no question that values and attitudes changed during the pandemic. In a Gartner survey, 65% of people agreed that the pandemic shifted their attitude toward the importance of aspects outside work, while 50% said that their expectations toward their employer changed. While salary is important, workers are looking for more than just a paycheck. Increasingly, flexible and remote working options, work-life balance and career development opportunities are coming to the forefront. When people think about their ideal workplace, they want to feel valued, trusted and inspired. As a result, non-linear career paths that offer these types of benefits will become more common.
Skills are center stage
In recent years, companies have been more willing to embrace skills-based hiring—where they consider applicants who don’t necessarily have a college degree or minimum years of experience. It’s becoming a top workplace trend for several reasons. First, despite a challenging economy, companies struggle to attract and retain top talent. A skills-based hiring approach expands the talent pool, accelerates the time to hire and reduces hiring costs. It’s also a great way to further workplace diversity, equity and inclusion by tearing through the “paper ceiling” that holds people back from being considered for roles they are qualified for. That means nontraditional candidates and self-taught career-switchers will have greater opportunities moving forward.
The workplace is rapidly evolving
This is a tough time for the labor market, where entire industries are trying to fill gaps in the workforce. Over the next decade, the workplace will change dramatically, with companies looking for skills that don’t even exist today. In addition, employees feel less engaged and are less loyal to employers. According to Energage Research, survey data collected from employees at more than 4,000 companies show that employee engagement levels have fallen lower than during the pandemic. The research also revealed lower levels of loyalty as employees leave their employer for a new one. This shift in loyalty isn’t surprising, given that employee burnout and stress are at all-time highs. In addition, the staggering number of layoffs and hiring freezes announced over the past several months have eroded employee loyalty. All these elements combined contribute to more workers pursuing non-linear career paths.
Lifetime employment at a single job is largely a thing of the past. While some employers may frown upon non-linear careers, those attitudes are quickly changing. Companies now want flexible workers who can adapt to evolving work situations. Make purpose and passion your guide. By leveraging your transferable skills and stepping outside your comfort zone, you’ll be able to build a career that inspires and motivates you for years to come.