The career ladder is dead, long live the career ladder!
Growing up, we were all sold the notion of a career as an upward journey. However, this has always been a problematic metaphor propounding the idea that working lives are narrow and linear, and that you can only move up when the person ahead of you clambers out of the way.
Careers haven’t worked that way in a long time, and ‘rising through the ranks’ is less like a ladder, and more like what Joanne Cleaver describes as a ‘career lattice’. Cleaver writes, “A lattice is like a jungle gym. You have diagonals that go over as well as up, and at any point, you have several moves you can make.”
So where do you find a career lattice, or how do you build one?
Where Do You Want to Be?
Having a five-year-plan feels like one of those concepts that should have toppled with the career ladder. However, it really is a good thing to think about where you want to be, or the kind of work you can see yourself doing in a few years’ time. In 2009, I was feeling the effects of the recession deeply, like most other new graduates. A bit of selective volunteering opened doors for me that I would never have dreamed possible, and now I get to write for a living. You can’t factor in all the circumstantial changes that will happen to you, but you can think about the person you want to be, and what success means to you. The job you want may not exist yet, so you can craft a niche for yourself. Just look at YouTubers who can do it for a living. Take some time to figure it out – it’ll be worth it.
Research Those Industries
Do your homework, kids! While you don’t necessarily need to stay in one industry for the next few years, you do need to know where you can get work in a business that positions you in the the best light for your next move. Once you’ve identified the work, you can start finding the companies that will get you there. Remember, you’re working to your own personal goals and helping companies along the way. It’s all win-win.
Your own personal goals should remain in your sights, but don’t let them blind you to good opportunities ahead of you. Yes, you should keep one eye on your targets, but being mercenary about your ambitions might make you unpleasant to work with, or frustrate you. If you’re unable to get a job that’s putting you on the right path, branch out into some extra freelance work (here’s where the lattice comes in) and add to your skills that way. Side projects are an excellent way to test and display your talents and having all these extra abilities will make you ultra employable to the next interviewer. Of course, no-one has time to take on several projects as well as a job, so pick one or two and do them well. A couple of high-quality freelance projects are better than tonnes of shoddy ones. We live in a world where people can work with and for anyone across the globe, and if you work in an online sphere then you truly can become a ‘digital nomad’.
Relationships are the most powerful tool in anyone’s career, and appreciating your colleagues is an important way to be valued yourself. If you push over the intern to get to the boss, people will notice and it won’t do you any favours. Now more than ever, the goalposts are shifting and an intern with a good idea could quickly become an influential player. Even if they don’t, be generally appreciative of other people, their work and ideas. You never know when that relationship can grow into a fruitful partnership.
Realising how much power you have over your own path is both exhilarating and a bit scary. The freedom to create and innovate means that you feel even more responsible when things go badly, but it also means that you truly own every success. It might feel like there’s security in this kind of career, but you also make your own decisions, financial and professional. It also means that you’re never stuck, and if you feel in a rut, you’re fully capable of building your own way out of it.
Have you got any good stories about people who thought laterally and found their way to something they really love? We’d love to hear all about it. Please let us know!