Climbing the corporate ladder used to be the go-to way to get ahead. Basically, this approach is linear — taking on progressively more responsibilities and seeing your title (and compensation) rise accordingly. For example, moving from Director of Marketing to Chief Marketing Officer would be considered a linear trajectory.
But there are pitfalls to this approach.
For one, pursuing a linear career path can limit how quickly your skills develop outside of your domain of expertise. Let’s face it, if you’re being handsomely rewarded for doing a set number of things, it gets very difficult to justify branching out. That can result in being pigeonholed professionally in the long-term.
The other is that by spending years climbing a relatively narrow ladder, you may be ignoring high-value opportunities that spin what you do in a completely new way. Let’s call this a leapfrog — using your current skills and abilities to “jump” into an entirely new type of position and/or industry.
So what’s the best move to make? Here are some questions to ask yourself:
1) “Can I See Myself Doing This For the Next 5 Years?”
While there’s no question that a CFO’s responsibilities are markedly different in scope from a financial leader with less seniority, there’s still going to be a significant amount of bleed-over. In these situations, it helps to get honest about how much you really enjoy the work you’re doing. If there’s a strong level of engagement there regardless of money or job title, that’s probably an indicator that you should keep going down that path. However, if it’s a constant struggle to rise up to a certain level of performance, maybe it’s time to think about pursuing roles which will diversify the slate of what you do on a day-to-day basis.
2) “What Is My Competition Doing?”
One of the most helpful ways to brainstorm new career paths is to do a skills-based search on LinkedIn for people with roughly similar backgrounds to yourself. Here’s how:
-Identify a few of your “marquee skills.” These are the areas which you have altitude in professionally, and would most probably apply in any job. For example, Strategic Planning, Business Development, Process Improvement, and Valuation. Expert tip: check out the “Featured Skills and Endorsements” section of your LinkedIn Profile for ideas here.
-Now run an Advanced Search on LinkedIn for professionals who have your marquee skills. You can use LinkedIn’s search filters to sort by target industries, or even run searches for people at certain companies. Also, by placing quotation marks around a search term (ex. “VP” or “Quality Assurance”) you can restrict results to people who have an exact match with the term. This can be a FANTASTIC way to get ideas for potential jobs you may not have been thinking about.
-A final point here: be sure to reach out to any 1st Degree Connections with similar marquee skills and pick their brain about their experiences. A quick conversation with someone who’s faced some of the some battles you’re facing can tell you more than hours of research.
3) “What Mistakes Can I Afford to Make?”
This sounds like an insane question, but bear with me. If you’ve been on a solid career trajectory for the past 15 years, you can easily spend a year or two doing consulting work or taking on “leapfrog” positions without upending everything. Even in the event that things don’t go the way you planned, you can switch back to your old path relatively easily….and will most probably have added some interesting skills and experiences to your resume along the way. However, if you’ve recently dealt with some trying years on the career front, then your tolerance for this kind of exploration will probably be much lower. Adjust how aggressive or conservative your next move will be in this light.
Remember: As Steve Jobs said, you can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards. Be bold and imaginative with how you apply your talents- what’s out there may truly surprise you!