Apr 27, 2011

With some companies focusing more on internal hiring and beginning to look at new models of working, I’ve heard more comments and questions about “career development” and what that may mean for any given individual in today’s environment. Working in an evolving and ever-changing industry, in a fluid, global environment, how can your candidates get from here to there? How should they know when to make a move and what that move should be? Where is “there”?

Gertrude Stein is noted as saying “There is no there there,” and I am a firm believer in this philosophy. Although many people have succeeded and gone far in their careers using the traditional “ladder” method (simply moving up within their job family), I’d like to suggest that there is another way that can take your candidates way beyond “there”: the lattice.

The lattice method is a way of moving up in your career by moving over to adjacent work, work that touches on what you are currently or historically doing, but brings some new twist to it. Ask your candidates to think of their overall career: what themes do they see emerging? Are they a bridge (connecting people)? Are they a builder (of process, products, teams)? Are they a collector (of information, of ideas)? Ask them to think about those themes, what they have done in the past, and what “adjacencies” those skills may touch.

If, for example, throughout their career they have noticed that they excel at building (processes, policies, teams) and they have been in program manager roles, perhaps they could consider becoming a recruiter (where they would build teams, manage priorities, and create a process for culling down the candidate pool) or an account manager (where they would build knowledge stores of information for their customers, and help them navigate processes).

Thinking about these adjacencies can lead to a varied and fulfilling career because it can span across industries, functions, and job titles. It allows your candidates to try new things without completely leaving their well-tested skills and expertise behind: a perfect way to bridge the gap and get from here to there. This is a method that not only works for advising your candidates, but can also be taken to heart in your searches, too. Are you searching for people with skills and expertise versus just that 1-to-1 experience? Are you considering their adjacencies as a creative match for a hard-to-fill role? (By the way, you can use this for your own career development as well.)

I’ve moved from sales to consulting to business owner to program management in both large multinationals and startups in the technology, financial, culinary, and arts & entertainment industries. What interesting and unusual career paths have you had? What about your candidates? Sharing these stories with each other helps to reinforce that others have also taken “risks” and tried something new. More often than not, there are success stories on the other end of an interesting climb.

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