As someone who previously moved four times in eights years—with a new job each time, to boot—I’m always interested in articles about job hopping. I feel encouraged when I read we’ll make more money and fascinated by just how to pitch this experience in an interview so it’ll make me look like an even more attractive candidate (rather than a flight risk).
So, I was particularly heartened to come across Neil Irwin’s recent New York Times article How to Become a C.E.O.? The Quickest Path Is a Winding One. It states that having a multitude of roles makes it more likely you’ll move up the ladder.
Of course, there’s a right way to go about it. The key is to build out a cross-functional skill set. As Irwin writes:
A person who burrows down for years in, say, the finance department stands less of a chance of reaching a top executive job than a corporate finance specialist who has also spent time in, say, marketing. Or engineering. Or both of those, plus others.
That makes sense, because as leadership coach Kristi Hedges explains in an article aptly entitled Why Leaders Are Poor Communicators, when people experienced in only one department, they bury themselves in whatever that is when things get tough: “They see themselves as an expert first, and a leader second.” She uses the example of someone who’s whole career has been in finance, retreating to look at numbers, rather than proactively communicating with employees.
So, if doing multiple jobs will build out your abilities and make you a more attractive—and prepared—candidate for leadership, can you rest assured that the more diverse your skill set the better? Sadly, the answer is no. Irwin notes that changing fields can actually set you back, and moving to a different organization in the same industry neither accelerates nor decelerates your journey toward leadership.
It’s about being well-rounded and understanding different facets of an organization—and the best way to learn is by doing. This also means that it may be that you hold the same title, but you collaborate on teams across different departments or work in a lean setting where you naturally take on projects in different categories.
It’s worth noting that changing roles isn’t the only thing that counts: There are a variety of other factors like gender, experience, education, and location that, based on the research, affect your odds (sometimes significantly). But, across the board, holding six “areas of functional experience” in previous jobs—as opposed to one—nearly doubles your odds of making it to the c-suite. Curious what your trajectory says about your chances?
Plug your stats into the chart in the article and find out.