Non-linear careers and advice for navigating them

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I was asked to talk about my career journey at a Women in Banking seminar recently, specifically to share insights on the non-linear nature of my career journey across banking and digital technology. Non-linear in this context is just another way of saying it has been more unpredictable, needed a couple of lateral moves, and in the main, has never quite worked out the way I thought things were going to be! If I had been asked 18 years ago, would I be consulting on digital transformation?  I would have said not in a trillion years!! As they say, never say never!

This started me thinking about how much the world of career management has changed, and not just from the perspective of there being no jobs-for-life anymore. There is now a more urgent need to proactively look at re-skilling, up-skilling, learning and unlearning than ever before. The fast pace of global change across all industry sectors and the implications for roles across those sectors is vast. As more technological development replaces or augments the world of work, there is a need to consider how career planning is refreshed to account for these innovations.

Previously in a linear-career mode, there was more clarity around what was expected to move up the career ladder. In the initial stages, there was knowledge to master around the job function, followed by the ability to train others to perform the same tasks, which led to developing skills in becoming an effective leader. Over time, the expectation was to run larger teams or more geographically dispersed teams to expand the remit. This path typically meant staying in broadly the same career space or industry sector.

With the advent of AI, intelligent automation, and robotics, the scope of learning and leading has changed. A newer skills base is needed to understand how role functions evolve fully. These technologies can radically transform how we look at broader vocations, from surgeons to investment bankers. Additionally, these advancements also enable more individuals to change sector, according to People Management, August 2020, 52.5% of individuals that changed job in the first half of 2020, moved industry segment.

Considering these changes in how roles across markets are evolving, perhaps a better way of managing the world of work is to think about positioning for “personal growth” and not specific functions. Hence, over time, developing new skills in emerging growth areas or improving knowledge of up-and-coming technologies or new ways of working. Technological innovation has also enabled individuals to move across industry sectors more quickly, as more and more organisations look to turn themselves into more digital and remote operators. This means that the sphere of influence for any individuals increases significantly, as new professional development opportunities can now arise across any sector. We often see individuals moving across retail, banking, telecommunications, and CPG as more digitisation of business occurs. So, career advice basics now extend more broadly than just what is immediately in front of us. For me, the following ten guiding principles have always served me well when it comes to managing my path; 


Top 10 career principles:

  1. Senior sponsorship is vital at every career stage. Having someone senior help tell and sell your career successes is essential to moving forward
  2. Do not plan your career; plan your growth. Being able to recognise the next development area and the place where that skill or experience can be developed helps career momentum and keeps you relevant  
  3. Before leadership, learn team membership. You cannot lead people if you don’t first learn how to be part of a successful, high-performing and supportive team
  4. Drive your “own” car, or you will always be lost. Coattails are tremendous but never lands you in the driving seat or helps you define a broader career agenda  
  5. Operate out of compassion and do the right thing by people. Invest in relationships before you need them 
  6. “Learn from the world of sport, recovery and rest is just as important as playing the sport”, Jan Muhlfeit, Retired Chairman (EU) Microsoft, Breakfast with Winners, Clubhouse, 18/03/2021. Take regular breaks to keep your energy and mental well-being in check. This is vital, as career decisions needs to be managed from a place of strength, not weakness
  7. Never wait to be ready to take on a more senior role – 60% there is “good to go”. If we waited to be 100% competent at doing a more significant role or take on more responsibility, no one would ever move! Perfect is a myth, be ready enough, and learn as you go along 
  8. Learn the difference between being aggressive and assertive. Aggressive behaviour is characterised as forceful, rude, argumentative and operates on the principle of “I win – you lose/or may win”. Assertive is respectful, direct, and confident in your abilities, always aiming for the “I win/You Win”. One results in trust and enduring relationships, which it was most careers are based on, and the other does not
  9. Do not do a job you do not love… keep looking for the right fit for you. Life is genuinely too short to spend 60% of it doing something that destroys your soul 
  10. Life audit – ask yourself regularly a quality question…. “the world has moved on, how do I fit, am I still relevant”… what’s next, Pepper? Survey your landscape regularly to see what impacts your sector and how you up-skill to stay ahead of the curve. This gives you more options and flexibility over the long term

I have found this checklist immensely helpful over the years, as it has helped me stay focused on my True North. There have been twists and turns on my journey so far but coming back and checking the basics highlighted above has always helped me out! Also, I regularly refer back to one of my favourite books, Everything is Figureoutable, to remind myself that in this journey through the world of work, almost everything has a solution waiting to be discovered…




Recent Blogs