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Navigating a Non-Linear Career: Insights from a B2B Tech Marketing Leader

October 19, 2023

In today's rapidly evolving job landscape, traditional career paths are becoming a thing of the past. The linear trajectory that once characterized professional growth has given way to a more dynamic and flexible approach. 

During Season 1 of The Daily Bolster, Matt and Sarah Brown, a B2B tech marketing leader, tackled this trend in a deep dive. Today, we’re recapping their conversation. Read on for insights on the nuances of non-linear career progression, strategies for transitioning between roles, and the art of leaving a company gracefully.

The Jungle Gym Model

In the past, careers were like ladders. Professionals had to wait for the next rung to become available before progressing upward in a logical path. Today, though, careers more closely resemble jungle gyms, where leaders can move laterally, diagonally, or even downward to acquire new skills and experiences. 

Embracing Non-Linear Career Paths

Now, it’s important for leaders to adaptable and willing to seize opportunities that might not be a direct step up. This agility allows professionals to accumulate diverse skills, paving the way for greater personal and professional growth in the long term. 

The non-linear approach also applies to creatives, especially within startups, where predefined career paths may not exist. 

Sarah emphasized the importance of understanding the broader context of a role and seeking cross-functional experiences. For instance, a marketing generalist might take on consulting projects or explore projects outside their immediate purview to gain a comprehensive understanding of all aspects of marketing. Similarly, lateral moves offer opportunities to acquire new skills and perspectives, even if they don't necessarily lead to a higher title. 

The popularization of the non-linear path can also be advantageous for companies looking to retain top talent. If the company can move leaders around internally to allow them to explore new opportunities, it can prevent some loss of talent. 

As expectations and norms within the workforce shift, today’s professionals often have to forge their own career paths. This is all the more relevant for startup leaders, who are at the forefront of innovation and often juggling a wider variety of responsibilities and changing roles. 

Lessons from Transitioning into Startups

Transitioning between roles can offer unique challenges. Sarah shared her own experience of transition: going from working for a large corporation to working for a startup. 

Shifting roles, especially when it also involves shifting organization, requires adaptability. Leaders can expect to encounter differences in culture, decision-making processes, and expectations. The ability to build cross-functional relationships and embrace a bias towards action are key to success. Once you develop these skills, though, they’ll serve you throughout your career. 

Quitting Gracefully: Navigating Exit Strategies

Exiting a role or company is an inevitable part of any professional journey. Matt and Sarah provided valuable insights on quitting gracefully and professionally. 

  • Consider a timeline that allows for a successful transition of responsibilities, while also making room for personal well-being
  • Assess your reasons for leaving and explore whether the issues at hand are fixable
  • Communicate openly and transparently, while also considering what information to disclose
  • If possible, take a break before you start your next thing

Sarah also emphasized that you should operate with mutual respect. This is a great general rule for life, of course, but you should also keep in mind that others are watching. You may interact with people from the company later on in your career, and you want to leave with your bridges intact. 

The ability to embrace non-linear career opportunities critical for professionals at all levels. If you’re hiring leaders, it’s important for you to understand the skills and advantages that come with such a path, too. We’re no longer looking at the next rung in the career ladder, but rather at the collection of experiences, skills, and relationships that make up the entire jungle gym. 

Listen to the entire episode.