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3 Tips for Navigating the Career Path of the Future

Topics: Career Advice
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For the vast majority of American workers, the in-company “career ladder” may as well be a memory from a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

The days of graduating — from college or high school — landing an entry-level job with a large company, working there for your entire career, climbing the corporate ladder, landing regular promotions and raises, and then retiring with a company-provided pension… they’re long gone.

“Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen.”

In a 2012 article in the Harvard Business Review titled There Is No Career Ladder, Priscilla Claman stated, “From my experience as a career coach, career ladders in most organizations have not existed for at least fifteen years.”

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“Career ladders died out during the late 1980s and early 1990s, when over 85% of Fortune 1000 American companies downsized their white-collar workforce,” wrote Claman.

And with those career ladders went much of the job security older employees were accustomed to. As noted in a 2014 article in Fortune, “Today, organizations freely reassign and fire employees as needed.”

Considering we’re already living in a more-volatile post-ladder world, future career trajectories will be at least as unlikely to follow a smooth line as they do today. Instead, workers can expect to navigate the figurative asteroid field of their career toward a higher salary and job level, but no longer along an easily predictable path.

So how can today’s workers prepare for modern, multi-dimensional career paths?

Here are three Star Wars-inspired tips.


“When the way before you is not clear, let your actions be guided by the Force.”

Recognize That Career Progress May Not Always Be Linear

How many millennials do you know who have worked in the same profession, let alone the same company, for their entirety of their — admittedly short, to this point — career? There aren’t many.

With in-company career ladders going the way of Alderaan, it’ll become much more likely for workers to move laterally within companies, or between companies themselves.

“What is clear is that job-hopping is becoming the norm for the average twenty something,” wrote Kaytie Zimmerman in a June 2016 article in Forbes Magazine.

Millennials can earn a higher salary, grow their career, change locations more frequently, and find a better cultural fit from job-hopping. The negative stigma is on its way out, so people should lean into the positive outcomes from making a change.

According to Spencer Thompson, CEO of Sokanu, the average person now holds more than 11 jobs in a lifetime, three to four of those being complete career switches. Breaking that down into how long workers now stay in a job … it averages out to a new job about every three years.

But don’t jump jobs just to go chasing that bigger paycheck; make sure you’re staying long enough at each to learn new skills and advance your career. If you learn at every step, in every job, you’ll be well positioned for continued success.

In fact, the type of well-rounded skill set you could gain from lateral moves might lead to vertical moves further down the line. In The New York Times’ article How to Become a C.E.O.? The Quickest Path Is a Winding One, Neil Irwin referenced a 2016 study when he wrote:

… early evidence suggests that success in the business world isn’t just about brainpower or climbing a linear path to the top, but about accumulating diverse skills and showing an ability to learn about fields outside one’s comfort zone.

In short, “To get a job as a top executive, it helps greatly to have experience in as many of a business’s functional areas as possible.”


“Much to learn you still have.”

Always Be Learning

In line with ensuring you have a well-rounded skill set, and with technology evolving at the speed of hyperspace, keeping your professional skills sharp in the future will be crucially important.

“Instead of identifying your job role or description, you [will be] constantly adding skills based on what is going to make you more employable,” says Jeanne Meister, New York-based co-author of The Future Workplace Experience, as quoted in a BBC article.

Indeed, in PayScale’s 2016 report Leveling Up: How to Win In the Skills Economy, we identified nine skills that provided the biggest pay boost to workers, and all of them have emerged in the past five years.

The point here? Even if you’re currently sitting pretty with a quiver full of valuable skills, regardless of your industry, there’s always a new technology, management technique or other requisite skill coming down the pike. Learn them, either by taking professional development classes, reading books or articles, or shadowing an expert colleague. Staying on the professional cutting edge will be ever more important in the future, as the pace of technology evolution accelerates and knowledge of obsolete tools and processes quickly loses value.


“In my experience, there is no such thing as luck.”

Hard Work Pays Off

Despite changing times, techniques and technologies, some things never change. The best way to create a successful career — regardless of how it unfolds — is to commit yourself to good old-fashioned hard work.

Does that mean putting in 16-hour days? Occasionally. But more than that, it means hustling: working hard when you’re working, and always giving your best effort; staying abreast of new technologies and industry trends; purposely connecting with the right people at professional events or on professional social networks; finding mentors who can guide you as you plan your next steps.

The more people in your professional orbit and the more you impress them by demonstrating your skills and value, the more likely you’ll be to find that next great job that lets you level up your skill set and career.

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