1. Straight lines are usually pretty long when it comes to careers in marketing. They’re for “company men,” patient, careful people.
    I was a poli sci major, which equated to nothing marketable when I graduated just as the recession gripped the US. Sales jobs were all I could get, but I started doing things that eventually led me to realize, “hey, this is actually marketing I’m doing now.”
    Squiggly lines might not get you into marketing faster, but they typically get you into the kind of marketing you’ll actually want to do faster.

  2. My career defines squiggly. I’ve been a grade school teacher–twice. Wrote advertising style campaigns for health and safety and loss prevention before settling into marketing communications for nonprofits/public sector. And now I’m most excited about social media.
    Trust me when I saw I’ve left out many squiggly lines. At times it’s frustrating but I always seem to end up in a better place and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

  3. Mitch, your “squiggly observations” parallel a number of concepts from The Start-Up of You, by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha.
    I’m a massive fan of this book. So I apologize in advance for sounding like a commercial. But, the squiggly career path from your personal experience highlight Start-Up of You concepts such as:
    * A mindset of permanent beta (so you’re always building new skills, capabilities, and contacts). And, building those assets may not necessarily come from another industry or people we’re spend the most time with.
    * Taking intelligent risks (when you followed your gut on The Internet)
    In my opinion, squiggly = being more entrepreneurial. And, that’s a great thing when it comes to managing our careers.

  4. I like that description Mitch – my has definitely been “squiggly”, but you learn a lot from deviating from linear – I liken it to a road trip – if you stick to the highway you’ll get there, but it’s a very direct route and you get the same view as everyone else along the way OR you can take a few turns here and there, take the road less travelled, make a few interesting stops along the way, even if you occasionally have to backtrack, the journey is much more interesting and you never know when you’re going to find a new destination that is far more desirable than your original one.

  5. Right on the spot, at least from my personal stand point. Most people end up doing something totally different to that they originally signed up for, however squiggly is a term as appliable to marketing as to any other carreer path, it just seems to be told on marketing more often.

  6. You say “the most successful people I know have had very squiggly careers.” Define “success” in this context. I suspect it’s not related to salary, or perks, or other monetary type rewards. I hope it’s related to finding fulfillment and satisfaction in their work by producing something that provides value to everyone in the transaction.
    A squiggly path keeps things fresh. It means constantly learning and facing new challenges. It means learning to adapt. It means growing within oneself. It represents a journey.

  7. “I recognize that these are first-world thinking philosophies”
    Not necessarily. I’d argue squiggly career are more of a North American thing.
    As an American, my squiggly was, and always has been embraced by recruiters. In the UK where I lived and received some of my education, they don’t get it. Even worse in China, where I’m writing from. They can look at a CV/resumé and not understand that an IT project started and finished in 30days or less and with that, the job ended, which to me, is a competency issue. So, imagine how squiggly looks to such “professionals”.
    Both Bob Williams & Mr. Faustino are on to something though. I’m not a “marketing professional” in the strict sense of the term although I did design a web-centered marketing turnaround and brand momentum strategy for a Chinese company which later decided it couldn’t afford me, and hired cheap labor to implement the plans.
    Still, like you, I’ve always done squiggly. Probably started at AT&T in the 90s where they made you do things cross-functionally because you’re good at it. Not because of “linear” thinking. However, this is an incubation period for me. And I’m not at all ashamed of my squiggly trail. It’ll be embraced…I hope, when I return home.
    Oh, and for those who haven’t taken or heard of the CVI™ (Core Values Index™) assessment, take it! It’s fun. You might discover things about yourself that’ll probably help guide your next career move. The test says I’m an “Innovator/Builder” (i.e., Dominant & Unique Value Set) although I’m yet to make a buck out of that discovery:-)

  8. Go Poli Sci majors! I was plucked out of technical writing by a wonderful mentor who recognized a spark of something in me, and I’m eternally grateful. Sometimes the squiggling is uncomfortable, but then nothing worthwhile is ever comfortable, right?

  9. Great post, Mitch. It’s funny – I actually was that person you describe in the intro paragraph. And yet I’ve also had a pleasantly “squiggly” career (spanning advertising, publishing, blogging, mobile content, web, consumer electronics, and entrepreneurialism). Breadth of ideas and experience, and a winding path, are definitely more fun – and probably more valuable/applicable in marketing than many other fields.

  10. It’s funny how many people think that security (a steady paycheque, pension, etc) is the secret to happiness, yet, once they achieve those things, they are rarely happy.
    With the exception of my first job in TV where I got to produce a music show and interview bands for a living, most of the steady paycheque jobs I held were either in unhealthy work environments, or they would end up being unchallenging and boring after a time.
    It was only when struck out on my own 8 years ago that things started to move in the right direction. Now I have about 4 jobs, and all of them are jobs I choose to do. I am happier and more successful without that perceived security than I ever was with it. Do what you love and security will follow. Funny how that works, eh?

  11. I love that you wrote this. I’ve struggled sometimes with my somewhat transient career path. Why can’t I seem to get that job I never want to leave? Then I think again and realize that sounds incredibly boring. My interests change. My skills expand. Moving around gives me the ability to grow in different areas. I like that.
    The only thing better will be the day I am fully self-employed.

  12. While the Squiggly can be a bit scary, it also seems to provide the most flexibility. Oddly enough, that could mean more security.

  13. Eric, you’re most certainly welcome. You won’t regret investing in The Start-Up of You. In fact, Mitch wrote a post about it on March 27th. I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did and take to heart its principles.
    Also, I think you’ll enjoy the Start-Up of You LinkedIn Discussion Group. It’s a great group with smart people and stimulating discussions (just like what you’ll find here in the Six Pixels Community).

  14. Yep, I also have a squiggly career path — and it also started with a political science degree! I then studied journalism, worked in news research for awhile, then onto communications, and now marketing. I never would have envisioned myself doing this kind of work 5 years ago, but I love what I do.

  15. People sometimes ask me whether my “background” is in digital marketing. I assume they mean my university degree, but find it funny that this even comes up, considering my professional experience in digital marketing is about 3 times as long as my education experience.
    The internet only barely existed when I was doing my degree. I studied Religious Studies because I wanted to major in Philosophy but the Religious Studies department more closely resembled what I imagined Philosophy would be like. Talk about teenage decision-making!
    Since many people assume that a career follows linearly from a degree I was asked countless times, “What are you going to do with THAT, be a nun?!?”. Um, yes, that is exactly the plan. I will be the first Sephardi-Ashkenaz nun.
    Rather than think of my past squiggles as being unrelated to the present, I believe I bring all those detours to the table. Our personal squiggles along the way inform our total outlook, and are precisely the experiences that bring colour, texture and individual perspective to our current role – whatever that role may be.

  16. I definitely have a squiggly career path. As well as a variety of shop jobs…
    …the jobs that had most influence on my life > Library Assistant (aged 16)> Editorial Assistant (top-shelf mags, aged 22) > Social Media Assistant (aged 23)> Freelancer (aged 25).
    However each I’ve almost fallen into in one sense of another and they have helped me become a more rounded worker.
    Now as a freelancer I work a variety of jobs and I reckon that can be a great way to expand your mind. I’m a book-keeper, cleaner, market stall assistant, jewellery making freelance writer and marketing consultant.
    However, I do think perhaps I’ll have to think about my future and settle.

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