In today’s dynamic job market, the concept of a ‘squiggly career’ is more relevant than ever. If this is a new concept to you, here’s a quick explainer to bring you up to speed.

Unlike the traditional, linear career paths, which see us studying at the outset, working for most of our adult lives, and then retiring around our 60s, squiggly careers are all about switching things up, changing the order of things; and ultimately introducing flexibility, variety, and adaptability to our career journeys.

Here’s a quick look at what squiggly careers are and why they matter.

What is a ‘squiggly career’?

A squiggly career refers to a non-linear career trajectory where individuals frequently change roles, industries, or career directions based on their evolving interests, skills, and circumstances. This approach contrasts with the traditional ladder-like career path where a person moves up through a single profession or organisation.

The term ‘squiggly careers’ was coined by Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis, founders of the career development company Amazing If, through their popular podcast ‘Squiggly Careers’.

The idea stemmed from their personal experiences and observations that the traditional, linear career path can limit people’s potential and growth. They saw how squiggly careers better align with the realities of the modern workforce, where frequent job changes, varied experiences, and continuous skill development are common.

What are the key characteristics and benefits of squiggly careers?

Flexibility and adaptability

Squiggly careers allow us to pivot and adapt to new opportunities. This often involves learning new skills and being open to different job roles or sectors.

Continuous learning and skill acquisition are central here; individuals invest in developing a diverse skill set that allows them to navigate various roles and industries.

Squiggly careers are driven by personal passions and interests. People in squiggly careers often seek roles that align with their values and bring them satisfaction, rather than following a predefined path, and through doing so, are able to build a wider, robust professional network.

Self-directed career management

What’s different about squiggly careers is that individuals are able to take charge of their career paths, making strategic decisions based on their goals and circumstances. This includes taking risks and exploring unconventional roles.

Why do squiggly careers matter?

Rapid technological advancements and economic shifts require a workforce that can adapt quickly. Squiggly careers allow individuals to stay relevant in changing job markets.It also means people are better placed to pursue diverse interests and find meaningful work — which of course enhances job satisfaction and mental wellbeing. Squiggly careers offer a way to escape the monotony and stress of rigid career paths, providing people with a better work-life balance, as they tailor their careers to fit their personal needs.

Exposure to different industries and roles also fosters creativity and innovation, leading to unique problem-solving skills and new ideas.

Whether driven by personal passion or economic necessity, the squiggly career path allows individuals to navigate their professional journeys on their own terms.

Watch our interview with Mark Inskip, the CEO of workforce management company Matrix.

Matrix is working with employers, suppliers and individuals to build adaptable strategies, that aim to shape a connected and future-facing employment ecosystem. Their CEO, Mark Inskip discusses their three-sided approach to workforce management, the biggest changes in the employment landscape and what the term ‘squiggly careers’ means.