Will A Professional Pivot Help You Get Ahead?


Maybe you’re trying to find your professional niche.

Perhaps you get bored easily and like to constantly try your hand at new things.

It could be that you are multi-talented, with many passions and diverse interests you’re pursuing.

Whatever the reason, if you shift from job to job, trying on different positions, sampling a variety of industries, you may be sabotaging your hire-ability. That is, unless you have a strategy to navigate your professional mobility through job transitions to leapfrog your career.

In a new study from The University of California at Berkeley, researchers found that freelancers who demonstrated a long-term work commitment were most likely to be hired.

After examining millions of candidate profiles on an online job site, Professor Ming D. Leung of the UC Berkeley Hass School of Business found that applicants whose work history demonstrated a number of similar positions were at a distinct advantage over the competition.

Everyone makes career moves – but the pieces need to fit together.

On the other hand, Dr. Leung discovered that freelancers who remained in one position for a long time, or who took on various but dissimilar positions were perceived as less attractive to employers on the site.

Put differently, this university study hints that trying on different jobs is preferable and may give you an edge, as long as you stick within a single field.

Other experts and studies have confirmed that zig-zagging your way through a series of short-term assignments isn’t detrimental to your overall career progress  –  if you do it right.

Thinking strategically, those short-term positions can actually help you develop transferrable skills and demonstrate your professional flexibility and openness to change.

Doing it right

In fact, what may at first seem to be a step backward may actually be the key to fast-track your career progression.

Describing his own experience in Harvard Business Review, Alex McClung observed that, “the sideways moves accelerated my career by five years or more each time,” concluding that “sideways always turns into a slingshot.”

Your career needs momentum. While you’ll sometimes move sideways, make sure that momentum carries you forward, not in circles.

In fact, your career “needs to be horizontal” if you want to get ahead, HBR author Ron Ashkenas insists, because the talent most in demand today has the skills to collaborate – adding “value across” the board for very different stakeholders.

Contract gigs, side hustles, freelancing — all may appear as a series of horizontal moves on a very long resume.

But working hard on this kind of career-in-progress can result an impressive, broad and diverse project portfolio, and produce an extensive network of professional contacts. Those are two big plusses for you – especially if you think of yourself as a bit of a careerpreneur.

“Not everyone’s path makes sense as a vertical trajectory,” observes Robin Madell, and it’s possible to “move up” by moving over, or even by stepping right off the ladder every once in awhile. If that idea appeals, consider managing your career more like a college professor does, suggests Bruce Kasanoff in Forbes. Academics often step up to serve a limited term in an administrative role before returning to their teaching and research. And every once in awhile it’s time for a sabbatical – a chance to pursue a new project, collaborate, learn a new skill, recharge and refocus.

Time off, a freelance or volunteer gig, a new collaboration or professional development project – these seemingly-sideways or random career shifts could be exactly the professional pivots required to reach your career goals.

This article is excerpted from my professional development course in personal branding with social media, offered online at Queen’s University.