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How to take a career 'detour'

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·Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
·5-min read
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young business woman working from home this is needed in times when people cannot gather in one place
Taking a career detour can be a great way to gain wider knowledge, experience and new skills. So how do you navigate this route? Photo: Getty

First, you start off as an intern. Then you get offered a permanent job as a junior member of staff, before being promoted to a senior role. Eventually, you become a manager or a specialist, having moved up the ladder in your chosen field.

This linear, step-by-step approach is often touted as the ideal career path. As we all know, though, things don’t always work out as planned. We think we will be at the same company for years or that we’ll want to stay in the same industry forever, but life happens. Sometimes, we end up on a winding career path full of detours.

However, taking a career detour can be a great way to gain wider knowledge, experience and new skills. So how do you navigate this route?

“A career detour is any diversion from your standard and straight path along and up the ladder,” says success coach Victoria Stakelum - The Success Smith - who specialises in supporting ambitious professionals to create more alignment, fulfillment and success in business and life.

“Common detours can include an intended career 'pivot' into a new direction, a stint of consultancy or 'solopreneurship' or a career break during which you 'try out' or volunteer at something else, or even return to study.”

An example might be those who pursue careers as academics after earlier stints in specific professions. “Many go on to have dual careers as consultants and contractors within their original field, whilst maintaining their academic teaching and research interests in parallel with their professional/corporate careers,” explains Stakelum.

Becoming a parent can also lead to a ‘detour’ in order to find a career with more balance and flexibility. “Many will choose to take a detour into part time work, a profession that lends itself to flexibility or even an interesting volunteering opportunity,” Stakelum says. “However, once the kids are raised and there is more time to refocus, an individual may seek a return to their original career.”

Read more: How to expose a company's toxic culture in a job interview

For Stakelum, her own detour came after a tricky exit from an executive director role. She spent 18 months as a strategy and leadership development consultant before returning to her original career in commercial leadership.

“My 'return' was to work within an organisation for the CEO that had been my first client,” she says. “Being a consultant for him enabled me to get a real feel for the organisation, its challenges and opportunities. Had I not had my 'detour' I may never have had the opportunity to take on that particular role, which became the absolute highlight of my corporate career.”

What are the pros and cons of taking a career detour?

Deviating from your set career path can be a good opportunity to take some time for yourself, to refresh yourself and remember who you are as a person, says Edward Mellett, founder of WikiJob.co.uk.

“You may come out of a career detour and decide to change your life completely, or you may decide not to,” he says. “It doesn't matter what you decide, what matters is you were able to work out what you wanted to do.”

Additionally, it can also bring a wealth of insight and provide you with a broader skill set. Being willing to try new challenges and embrace new experiences is rarely a negative in the eyes of an employer. A change of scenery can help you escape a rut, too.

Read more: How to approach difficult conversations as a leader

However, there is no doubt that a detour can be a risky move. Some employers favour job candidates with conventional career pathways on CVs and fail to appreciate the benefits that come with a varied career.“If you decide to go back to your normal career you will have to explain your time spent detouring during interviews - and you may get some tough questions,” says Mellett.

How to take a career detour

If you are employed, a good first step may be to explore any job opportunities within your existing employer. There may be training opportunities or a chance to take on new projects outside of your job description. It can help to speak to friends and colleagues who have made similar career detours. Find out their reflections on this time - the good, the bad and any advice.

Although you might have to go to a lower rung of the ladder to make your start, the benefit of your 'first career' and the experiences it has given you can help you in any chosen career. It’s also likely that you have plenty of transferable skills too.

In some cases, a career detour may be prompted by redundancy. “In this situation, taking the opportunity for a really deep reflection into what you would love to explore as a career can be a wise move,” says Stakelum. “So many of us 'fall into' careers that don't really suit us or tap our passions. Redundancy, after the initial shock, can often be a very positive thing in the long run.

“I encourage my clients to draw a three circle venn diagram. In the first circle, write a list of your experience and capabilities - professional and personal. In the second circle, write a list of the things you feel truly passionate and energised by. And in the third circle, write a list of the skills you have that you could theoretically earn money from,” she says. “You are looking for the themes that span the three circles.”

Watch: How to answer difficult interview questions

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