Embracing the Up, Backwards and Sideways Career

Content

No one’s career moves straight up. Most successful people see their share of failure and even simple treading water (no movement up or down). Just a few examples of people who failed on their way up:

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  • Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”
  • The University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts rejected Steven Spielberg several times.
  • The first book Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) wrote was rejected by 27 publishers.

Yet putting aside these famous folks’ failures, all of us should know: especially today, careers almost never move ever upward and/or always in a straight line. There will be detours, failures, false starts and mistakes.

And understanding this is a very good thing. After all, think about the possibilities:

  • Embracing the fact that a non-linear career path means you won’t be blinded – and trapped by – the idea that you must always move up. This hyper focus on an ever-upward trajectory can blind you to the many other opportunities for growth that taking a different path can give you.
  • Failing at something means you get to build your resilience muscles: dusting yourself off and standing back up proves to yourself that a) you can stand back up, b) that it gets easier each time and c) you’ve undoubtedly learned a ton because of the failure. In other words, you’ll know at a deep personal level that the old saying is true: those who experience and then overcome difficulty are stronger and better for it!
  • If you you’re willing to take risks, knowing that failure often is the absolute best teacher available when it comes to life and careers can transform the risky move easier to make.
  • You may find that you actually enjoy a different industry more than the one on which you had your sights set.
  • Embracing a squiggly career trajectory (up, down and sideways) means you’ll let yourself do the things that interest you, thus helping you learn what you don’t want to do. This can be as important as learning what you do want to do.
  • What’s more, you’ll understand that you don’t always need to continue doing something when it’s not working. For example, if you find that the career you just knew would make you happy doesn’t actually do so, you can unashamedly look into a new path.
  • You may actually find that promotions, higher pay and more responsibility aren’t the be-all and end-all for you. You may find that your definition of success instead entails spending more time with family and friends rather and/or creating art and/or volunteering for a cause in which you believe than working 60+ hours a week for the glamour (and almost certain stress) of being a person of importance in your field of work. (Or you may find the opposite: you discover that you want to be the boss!)

Just remember, careers today rarely move up and up and up. Embrace the failures. Look for opportunities to move sideways. Consider jobs you never have before.

And think about registering with a staffing agency such as Helpmates. Why? Because if you’re at all interested in exploring different career paths or industries, working for a firm such as ours allows you to “try on” different industries and positions without committing to any. Then, if you do find a position or industry you enjoy, there’s a good chance it can become permanent: more than one-third of people working on assignment received an offer of regular employment with the staffing company’s client.

To learn more about the many career-exploring opportunities we offer, contact the Helpmates branch office nearest you.

Dealing with “The Gap”

While most of us will work until about our mid-60s, not all of us will work all the time until then: most of us probably will have a gap in our work history either due to illness (ours or a family member’s), raising children, being laid off/quitting outright, or even taking a sabbatical.

Known as “The Gap,” this “hole” in your work history often isn’t looked at kindly by employers. And you can’t just cross your fingers and toes and hope a hiring manager won’t notice it. Instead, you absolutely must have a good reason for it and, most importantly, be able to explain it in a professional manner. Even better: if you can couch the gap in way that is beneficial to an employer, all the better.

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Here’s how to deal with “The Gap.”

  • Above all, tell the truth.

You may think saying you decided to take time away from working so that you could take care of your ill mother (which really is what you ended up doing) is far better than saying you were laid off, but it’s not: a hiring manager can simply contact your last employer to verify dates and it’s easy for her to find you were part of a reduction-in-force or even were fired.

Instead, tell the truth; you were laid off (and then decided to help your sick mother). Or you were fired for cause (and make sure you own up to your mistake). You took time off to raise children. You were ill. You decided to take a year off to travel the world. (Lucky duck!)

  • Talk about the skills you learned while gone/how you kept your skills up.

Many employers are nervous about work history gaps because they think you’ve gone stale or that you’re not up on the “latest and greatest.” So aim while you are not working to take a class or two (online works), work as a freelancer or take on some part-time work or temporary assignments and make sure your skills are current.

  • Explanations for different scenarios.

If you were fired, talk about your responsibility in your firing (it’s never all the unreasonable boss’s fault: we all have some culpability when fired). Reiterate how you’re a changed person and actually better for the lessons learned.

If you took that year-long trip around the world, discuss how it helped you be more compassionate to people different from you, you learned a new language, you started a part-time business online, etc. In other words, show how your travels provided you with new insights, lessons learned and even skills.

  • Repeating because it’s important: keep your skills up-to-date.

We understand how difficult this could be if your time away from work is because you or a family member is ill. But if you’re staying home to raise children for a few years, if you take some time off to try something new and/or travel, keeping those skills/knowledge base up to snuff shouldn’t be that difficult: classes abound online and off and temporary staffing services such as Helpmates can help you find part-time/temporary work while allowing you to keep your skills sharp (and even learn new ones).

Take a look at our current temporary, temp-to-hire and direct-hire opportunities and follow instructions on the job listing if one or more appeal to you.

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