Skip navigation
Careers Café

The benefits of non-linear careers

Not only do people frequently redirect their careers, but they often do so with the help of their past experience, not despite them.


Tempus fugit, and it fugits all the faster when you’re seeing your career flash before your eyes. When you’re contemplating a career change, it can feel like all of your previous experience was wasted, and that you should have spent it just doing X (getting a certification and working exclusively in software programming, accounting, dentistry…whatever seems both lucrative and linear).

Linear careers are not the norm, though. Not only do people frequently redirect their careers, but they often do so with the help of their past experience, not despite their past experiences. The elements of your career that seem too eclectic to you now may actually be what launch you into your next role.

The conference you helped to organize, the tutoring you did on the side, the lacrosse team you played on for years, the songs your released online, the PSW work you did in Scotland are all potential assets for what comes next.

To keep eclecticism from reading like a random mishmash, think about how each will help you to be better at what you hope to do next. Write down your thoughts, here. Step away from the list, and come back to it later and expand on it. Once you feel like you’ve exhausted each experience’s utility, then it’s fine to edit. Which are the most valuable transferable skills and areas of knowledge in terms of what work you’d like to take on now?

Test out adding some of this content to your résume or cover letter. Have a before and after, and share them with someone (preferably, someone who understands what you want to do next). Which one helps them best see why you’d be good at your next career goal? Which one would make them want to meet you or, better yet, work with you?

Making those connections between your past and desired future experiences requires self-awareness…which, happily enough, can be fostered by having eclectic experiences. Working only with like-minded people, who are attracted to similar sorts of problems, can skew your understanding of your strengths and weaknesses. If everyone close to you shares your strengths, it’s easy to assume you’re only average at what you do best. So, whether or not your eclectic experiences directly help you obtain your next job, they will, at the very least, help you understand what people who are dissimilar to you most appreciate about what you have to offer.

Liz Koblyk
Liz Koblyk is the associate director of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award at McMaster University.
Post a comment
University Affairs moderates all comments according to the following guidelines. If approved, comments generally appear within one business day. We may republish particularly insightful remarks in our print edition or elsewhere.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Click to fill out a quick survey