Career Tapestries Are Replacing Career Tracks
As Millenials, Gen Z, and generations to follow become the majority of the modern workforce, we must embrace the rise of the Multi-Threaded Career.
Careers don't always follow linear paths - "careers are jungle gyms, not ladders" - but neither do a person's interests. And yet, it's commonplace to judge someone's career from having a concise, easy-to-understand, career narrative.
It's easy to look at the resume of someone who spent 20 years as an accountant and reasonably assume "that person is a good accountant." They get an hour in an interview to share why they are a great accountant. Call some references to confirm, and boom - "you're hired"
We're accustomed to looking for the single thread that defines a person professionally. The traditional structures that we rely on to build our careers - resumes, interviews, etc. - focus on your single thread. You're an accountant. You're a marketer. You're a lawyer.
It's getting harder for the modern workforce to answer "what do you do?" because we do lots of things! Our careers are rich tapestries of many threads - from working on growth marketing at a startup to driving an Uber.
It's harder to sell yourself in a multi-threaded career. Take me: I was a Java developer but studied Finance then decided to go into sales instead. I taught cooking classes. I started a real estate podcast. For my day job, I do BD.
For a long time I feared being seen as "distracted" or "all over the place." So I presented only one slice of me to the world, not my whole self. I developed a skill for spinning my most current thread into the yarn I wanted to be hired for.
At some point I realized the "Interests" section of a resume - that single line that's often ignored at the bottom - is the the most interesting part of the resume. Your interests inform your experiences and your experiences make you who you are.
We love to hear stories about people who are both successful and super interesting. I know a marketing VP who used to be a professional poker player. A Business Developer who ran a matchmaking service. The new Goldman Sachs CEO is a part-time DJ.
We connect those dots and assume that person's success is due to their many threads. That's true - the poker player understands consumer behavior. The matchmaker BD knows what makes good relationships. The Goldman Sachs DJ stays connected to to his young employees.
But that is survivorship bias at work as the traditional structures upon which we've built our careers only let us show a single thread.
We've focused so long on checking for someone's "10,000 hours" to deem them an expert, but the pendulum is due to swing the other way. To find the best talent, employers must give credence to varied interests as experiences and perspectives, not distractions. The more varied our experience, the more multi-dimensional our expertise becomes.
For 'new and emerging' roles that are evolving in real time - BD, Data Science, Customer Success, Blockchain Engineering - a more expansive worldview will help enrich the entire field. We should celebrate and find ways to bring those threads into the light.
Let the modern workforce bring their whole selves, to show off and get value from each and every thread of our colorful career tapestries.