Why the winding road is often the shortest route

My career took a few turns, coming to Asia for 6 months and saying for 25 years was but one of them.

Rare, in todays job environment is a long straight career path, so take some time to read about the benefits of sometimes taking the winding road, the road less travelled in your search for a great and fulfilling career.

In the current environment, to get a job as a top executive, new evidence shows, it really helps to have had experience in as many of a business’s functional areas as possible.

The person who is focussed 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, for example, the marketing team or supply chain. Or both of those, plus others.

As always, there is a caveat, there is too much variety.  For example, a history of switching industries has a negative correlation with corporate success.  Why, I would think because of  the importance of building relationships and experience within an industry. Switching between companies within an industry, the research shows neither helps nor hurts in making it to a top job.

The research showed that experience in one additional functional area improved a person’s odds of becoming a senior executive equivalent to three years of extra experience. And working in four different functions had nearly the same impact as getting an M.B.A. from a US top-five program.

Here’s some of their suggestions in career planning to boost your chance of success (please note the research is US based and so biased towards the US);

  • You worked in one industry rather than two, your probability of becoming a senior executive would increase three percentage points.
  • Received an undergraduate degree from a top 10 U.S. undergraduate program rather than a top international school, +3  percentage points.
  • Worked for four companies rather than two, +4 percentage points.
  • Worked across four job functions rather than two, +8 percentage points — a 1.5X impact on selection.
  • Worked for 10 more years, +15 percentage points — a 2X effect.
  • Got an MBA from a Top 5 U.S. program rather than a non-MBA Master’s, probability would increase 21 percentage points — a 2X effect.

In effect, the increased ability to collect and analyze such data raises the possibility that in the future we’ll be able to better assist individuals to position themselves to benefit from shifts in what skills the modern economy most rewards.

There is a lot of work to be done to get to that point. But this early evidence suggests that success in the business world isn’t just about brainpower or climbing a straight road to the top, but about accumulating diverse skills and showing an ability to learn about fields outside one’s comfort zone.