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Does Your Career Zig or Zag?

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My father spent his entire career with one organization and 45+ years working his way up the ladder of the competitive banking and finance industry. While he enjoyed multiple retirement parties and was given the proverbial gold watch upon his self-determined exit from the workforce, he represents a generation of professionals that are becoming extinct.

In 2011, it's not so much that people have changed their professional values but that organizations don't honor the long-term employee as they did in years past. The "grow talent from within" philosophy can still be found in some of the corporate giants like Proctor & Gamble and DuPont but today organizations are also embracing the new industry zig-zaggers. These individuals have multiple companies represented on their resumes and work for brief stints, then move on. What they bring to the table is innovation, an ability to be flexible and embrace change, and a fresh approach to solving problems with creative solutions.

Recruiters and hiring managers are now welcoming the new industry zig-zaggers because these professionals know their unique value-add in the workplace. They bring with them a breath of fresh air and often the industry tricks-of-the-trade from competitor organizations. Many zig-zaggers have made conscious career transitions because they find change stimulating, while others have had to showcase their resiliency in an unmerciful job market and needed to reinvent quickly.

It used to be that having short stints at multiple companies was a red flag when applying for a new position. Times have changed and these candidates can market themselves wisely as desirable hires if they don't present as an immediate flight risk. Here are some things to consider if you are a conscious zig-zagger, or someone trying to make a fresh start in this unpredictable job economy.

Showcase Your Value-Add. Every employer wants to know what they will get as a return on their investment if they hire you. Be prepared to clearly define what you bring to the table. Develop your 30/60/90 day plan and systematically outline your strategy for success in the organization. Be well prepared and know what the company needs before your interview.

Illustrate Your Flexibility, Innovation, and Ability to Handle Change. These are the most highly sought after competencies as reported by head hunters and recruiters these days. The company can train you for additional skills but you must be a good cultural fit and be ready to handle whatever comes your way. The only consistent thing about this career world is that it will continue to change quickly. Zig-zaggers should demonstrate how they bounced back after a set-back and handle uncertainty with an open mind and a positive attitude during the new job interview. Often new leaders are born when they step up to the plate and accept organizational change without complaining. Here's where a zig-zagger can have an edge.

Know the Value of Transferable Skills in Career Reinvention. Many zig-zaggers have reinvented their careers in entirely different industries. Be firmly in control of your own marketing message to help others understand the value of your transferable skills. Be ready to give examples and consider this when selecting your references that will be called if you are a final candidate. They too should be able to speak to the power of your transferable skills.

Long Term Career Plan. Some professionals became zig-zaggers beyond their control, and others have opted for short-term assignments to consciously grow their careers when they hit the glass ceiling. In many companies, moving up and out is the only opportunity for promotion and career growth.

Any hiring manager worth their salt is going to probe into your long-term career plan. If you value security and longevity in an organization, don't be shy about saying so, especially if this is also a company value. But be aware that organizations want you around long enough so that you become profitable to them after the initial training and orientation period. If you are a perpetual zig-zagger you will need to choose organizations that embrace your constant momentum and have a shorter value-add period for their pay back.

Since a lifelong career path in a single organization is going by the way of the dinosaur, you must be in control of your own career destiny. Don't assume your boss is looking out for your career future. Consider where you want to be in five-year increments and develop a plan to get yourself there. If upward mobility requires a bit of zig-zagging, you will not be ostracized as long as you can definitively show your value to a company and a sincere interest in working at the organization.

Whether you zig or zag -- your career destiny is in your hands!

Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book This Is Not the Career I Ordered and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name (www.carolinedowdhiggins.com) She is also the Director of Career & Professional Development at Indiana University Maurer School of Law.