When I think about the word flexible, I immediately think of yogis, rubber bands and my career. Traditionally, we viewed a career as linear. This, however, has changed as most of us will enjoy two or more career paths in our lifetime. The ‘zigzag career’ is becoming a common pattern in the 21st century.

People are increasingly moving in and out of jobs as they use their work/life experiences and continuously grow their knowledge to jump to the next opportunity. Unexpectedly, Covid-19 has put career changes on the fast track and made many of us rethink what we want to do, and how we want to do it. Jobs for life are now the exception, rather than the rule. Hence, we must be open to and able to face change and upgrading our skills and enhancing our knowledge are crucial.

More and more dual career couples are accepting assignments abroad, and I know by experience, that you often do not relocate to one destination but to several. Whether or not you are moving abroad, being open to work possibilities that may conflict with your initial linear career is important to achieve a flexible career. In other words, by approaching your career with a flexible mindset, you will be able to adjust to future moves/changes by looking at a broader range of job opportunities, using the competences you have acquired as well as developing your skills. The ability to easily zig-zag, gives you a greater chance of self-fulfilment and work-life balance.

How do you build a flexible career? This is a question I am often asked.

Before you determine where you want to go, you must first know who you are. Take some time to explore and write down your answers to the following questions:

– What are you good at?
– Which skills have you learned and developed in both your professional and private life?
– What makes you unique?
– What are your natural talents?
– What is your purpose?
– What are your favourite activities and interests?
– Which world issues are close to your heart?
– What are you often asked for by others?…

Your answers are a starting point to reflect and clarify the second stage of your exploration. Which career goals would you like to pursue? Are you thinking of a career change? Do you need to follow a training? Is your goal realistic? What are the stumbling blocks?… Give yourself permission to contact people who are working in the field you are looking at, to avoid any misinterpretation about the job function and future opportunities.

Once you have a clear understanding of your skills, values, motivation… and goals then you can reflect on your strategy. I advise you to have more than one option. The first option would be to continue in your current field or something similar to it. If there are any qualification differences, what kind of additional training would be available and how long would it take to complete? Do you have the support of your family? Do your current or past employers have connections in the country you are moving to?

Your second option is to work remotely for your current/future employer or as a consultant. Of course, this isn’t possible for all jobs, but it has been proven that many jobs today can be done remotely. Give it a try with the company you work for, others in the same field or organisations who would benefit from you being located in a different part of the globe with access to local information.

As third option, you could take this opportunity to make a career switch. Reinvent yourself. Demonstrate your flexible and  transferable skills, and experience doing something completely different. I recently, helped a special needs teacher moving to HR,  using her skills and experience in a different setting. These roles have a lot in common such as for example active listening, questioning, structure etc you just need to identify and explain effectively. Consider both the different possibilities of work that interests you as well as the economic demand locally and globally.

If you would like to avoid holes in your CV, think about alternatives such as continuing your education in the same or different field, pursuing a hobby that may later evolve into a business, volunteering work or becoming self-employed. These will allow you to develop and refine your skills as well as gain valuable experience in another culture, enlarge your network and opportunities. Last but not least it will help you to answer with ease this dreaded question “What do you do?” How we define ourselves in our western society definitely has an impact on our identity, self-esteem and overall happiness.

By approaching your job search with a specific plan and focusing on a variety of job options, you will have a greater chance of success. Flexibility and adaptability in today’s world are power and the zigzag career is the new trend. Embrace it!

by Marie Dewulf