The Hidden Value of Candidates With Unconventional Career Paths

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You’ve probably heard the idyllic stories of people who have had successful, linear career paths, landing their first big jobs straight out of college and continuing from there. What you’ve probably heard more of, though, are those stories of people who have pursued multiple careers and changed fields numerous times in pursuit of the work they enjoy.

Conventional career paths are no longer the only way for employees to reach their potential. They’re not even the norm anymore. And that’s a good thing: Jagged career paths can give working professionals an edge over their colleagues while helping employers build more diverse workforces.

Career Success Through Unconventional Means

While a traditional career path may provide you with a clearer picture of your future success from the outset, it may not lend you the skills and experience necessary to thrive in an evolving job market.

To fully understand the value of a varied career path, we should look at professional sports. Athletes, too, have traditional and unconventional career paths. Some specialize in a single sport, while others play multiple sports before going pro in a single sport. While sports programs and coaches used to preach the value of specialization, recent data suggests a less conventional approach makes for better players.

A 2017 study from the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine found that not only does specializing in a single sport fail to increase a young athlete’s chances of elite performance later on, but it may also limit their potential. According to the study, the average professional-level athlete began specializing in a single sport two years later than the average high-school-level athlete, suggesting that athletes who spend more time playing a variety of sports are more likely to reach higher levels of performance. Perhaps that’s why, in the 2017 NFL Draft, nearly 90 percent of the drafted players had played multiple sports in high school.

By embracing multiple disciplines, these multisport athletes have been able to pick up a plethora of skills from different fields. When they combine those skills in a single game, it makes them into even more accomplished athletes.

The same holds for workers. By exposing oneself to different industries, areas of focus, and job types, a person can become a more well-rounded — and higher performing — employee. Maybe having “yoga instructor,” “sales representative,” and “office manager” on your resume isn’t such a bad thing at all.

Leveraging an Unconventional Career Path

The most significant benefit of an unconventional career path is that it gives workers the ability to develop transferable skills — skills that are just as relevant to one field as they are to another. As the economy evolves and the nature of work itself changes, hiring managers must look beyond traditional qualifications and awards. College is no longer the best indicator of success in the workplace, and some of the skills employers need most aren’t taught at university.

This is what makes an unconventional career path such an asset for employees and employers alike. As a hiring manager, you want to bring on candidates who have transferable skills like communication, organization, problem-solving, and project management. These are just as important as technical skills — if not more so — in today’s economy.

A candidate’s unconventional career path can be an indicator of their proficiency in such soft skills. For example, a candidate who was once a varsity basketball coach may have a greater mastery of communication, team building, and leadership than an applicant who has been in the same corporate role for the last ten years.

How Unconventional Career Paths Drive Diversity

Looking for candidates with a more diverse array of experiences and occupations can also be a powerful way to improve workforce diversity. While many factors can influence a person’s professional journey, unconventional career paths sometimes emerge out of necessity. Individuals from underrepresented groups may not have as much access to prestigious schools and training programs. As a result, they often have to acquire their professional knowledge and experience on the job.

Plus, simply having an unconventional career path gives a candidate a wider variety of perspectives and insight than those with traditional career paths. When you hire candidates with unconventional professional journeys, you gain access to those diverse perspectives — and as we know, diverse workforces tend to generate higher levels of innovation and creativity.

Diversity represents an essential part of an organization’s overall mission and vision and is a great asset to have. However, building that diversity in a workplace can be a challenge. The good news is that, by giving candidates with unconventional career paths a fair shot, you open your organization up to a more diverse pool of talent — and all the benefits that come with it.

Aneela Zaib is the CEO and founder of EmergiTEL.

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By Aneela Zaib