Back view image of young businessman trying to find way out of mazeAs the workplace undergoes tectonic shifts under the weight of rapid technological change, a social media revolution, and new global economic realities, we need to rethink how to protect and grow our careers—by moving away from traditional, vertical job tracks, to a more holistic and horizontal approach.

It’s time for a paradigm shift, and executives at all levels must think hard about what will make them relevant and employable in the coming years. And that’s not by simply standing still and hoping for the best; it’s by embracing constructive change and new challenges.

The way it used to be

When we think of traditional job advancement, we think of applying similar skills in a more demanding environment for better pay and a better title.

Historically, changing your role within a company was often thought of as a linear progression, and companies placed most employees on what seemed like a straight and narrow road. To advance, they needed to get better at what they already did, and few managers and executives considered moving employees to new departments.

But the game is changing, and although vertical career planning can often appear sufficient, it can just as often be limiting and perilous. At its worst, a vertical career focus creates a scenario where employees have fewer marketable skills if they are ever laid off, meaning finding a new job can be surprisingly difficult.

Fortunately, horizontal career planning can help to rectify this problem. By focusing on building new skills in other core areas important in your industry can make you much more attractive to your current employer and others you might be interested in working for down the road. Getting smarter and more versatile is a win-win for both you and your company.

What the new workplace offers and demands

Put simply, a well-rounded background means more job opportunities.

Today, as the workplace changes, employers increasingly seek out well-rounded employees. Market demands often require companies to shift their focus quickly, and having versatile employees can make dealing with these demands simpler. In addition, multi-talented employees are better able to produce work that fuses well with other departments.

A copywriter with web development knowledge, for example, will be better able to write effective online copy; a salesperson with engineering skills will be well-positioned to improve sales processes; a marketer with social media expertise can add innovation to the marketing process; and so on…

Be constantly learning

So what can you do to get into the horizontal career planning mindset? First, identify where you want to grow your expertise. Then seek out internal and external avenues to explore your new focus. Be creative and enthusiastic about developing new skills, always knowing it’s for a good cause—the prosperity and longevity of your career.

Besides company training, industry events or organizations, and continuing education coursework, the web has opened the doors to a host of new, low cost learning opportunities. Platforms like Skillshare, Udemy, iTunes U, General Assembly, Coursera, and various TED Talks provide great training on various topics. And each learning experience will open doors you never would have thought of before.


In order to stay relevant and consistently bring value to your employer and enhance your career, avoid being pigeon-holed into one vertical area of professional expertise. Instead, to increase your marketability over the long haul, invest in horizontal career planning. As time goes by, having multiple areas of expertise won’t be an option. It will be a requirement to stay relevant and employable. So dive in now!

The result will be a more resilient foundation for your success.

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