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Advice / Career Paths / Career Change

Don’t Want a Traditional Career Path? At These Companies, That’s OK

For the longest time, it seemed like the only direction careers could move was up. You’d start at the associate level, then graduate to manager, to director, and so on, and that was considered success.

But the thing is, that path isn’t right for everyone. Maybe your current job isn’t the right fit anymore, and you’d rather explore other gigs than get promoted. Maybe you’re not interested in managing a team—you’d rather be the best designer, or salesperson, or engineer you can possibly be. Or maybe you’re not sure how you want to grow; you just know you want to keep gaining transferable skills and learning more.

We get it, and we’re excited to say that the modern workplace is starting to offer new options beyond the traditional career ladder—and even support to help you along the way. Switching careers? Expanding your intellect outside of your role? Becoming a well-rounded human being? These are all paths that are available to you.

Why this shift? For starters, job hopping is becoming the new norm, with Millennials switching jobs an average of four times within the first 10 years of their careers. And many of those people—60%, according to’s database—are searching for a job completely outside their current field.

So, rather than watching their employees walk out the door, many companies are choosing to help career changers in their journey with initiatives such as learning and development classes and supportive internal transfer programs.

At Capital One, for example, employees are encouraged to explore new fields by attending cross-department meetings, chatting with co-workers in different areas, and taking classes through the company’s training platform. “I talked to pretty much everyone I could and was like, ‘Hey, this is where I want to be, how do I get there?’” says Maeve McCoy, who was able to smoothly transition from a QA engineer to a software engineer in just six months at Capital One. “I got nothing but support—my first manager had me sign up for all these training classes and set me up to meet with people, even though it wasn’t necessarily relevant to my job title.”

And if you don’t know what that next job is? More and more employers are helping people dip their toes in different fields through rotational programs. Each setup is different, but with the same intention of growing employees’ skill sets, providing them the flexibility to make an informed decision, and ultimately placing them in the perfect role.

Google and Hootsuite, for example, have a “bungee” or “stretch” program where a team member can spend a few hours a week in another department for a short period of time to see if it’s a better fit. CloudOne, Mars Inc., and HubSpot have more traditional systems of employees spending eight months to a year in each role before deciding what they’d like to pursue full-time. And VMware’s “Look Within” program not only allows people to spend several months on another team to see if it’s right for them, it offers courses, workshops, and trainings that lets them further explore their personal and professional ambitions.

And if you just want to grow your skills, rather than worrying about what that next step looks like just yet, take heart that employers are increasingly valuing ongoing education. It’s not just tuition reimbursement programs and on-the-job Excel classes; soft skills are just as important as technical ones. Mentorship programs and in-office workshops encourage a hands-on approach to learning, and many companies bring in guest speakers and influencers in different industries or host lunch and learns (such as at Bitly where the company meets once a week over food to learn about anything employees want).

In short, workplaces today realize that the modern career path isn’t always a straight one—it could go sideways, or wind back and forth, or even be multiple roads at the same time. And better yet, they’re giving employees the freedom and resources to plot that path in the way that makes sense for them. After all, by investing in employees’ growth and success, no matter what that looks like, they’re investing in the growth and success of their company.

This is part four in our “Modern Work Perks” series, created in partnership with Capital One to explore the things that matter most to employees in today’s working world.

Photo of man with bike courtesy of vgajic/Getty Images.