July 03, 2024

Squiggly Careers

Illustration of a pencil drawing a star

‘Squiggly careers’, a term coined by Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis, describes career paths that don’t follow the typical route or trajectory. They show that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to career paths, or to success; people develop in different directions, and success can look different for everyone. It’s not about switching jobs for the novelty, it’s about choosing your own path; placing a focus on learning, growing and developing in a way that embraces your strengths and fits your individual goals.

Non-linear careers aren’t a new concept, but are quickly becoming the norm for people, as the ways of working in the 21st century continuously shift. Job-hopping with intention is commonplace and even encouraged, and upskilling yourself through a sideways, or even unrelated, career move is becoming increasingly beneficial.

Although currently a graphic designer, my background is in Archaeology and Anthropology. Figuring out your career goals as a young person is tricky – until midway through my degree I was adamant that I would be the next Tony Robinson, until retraining at Shillington as a designer. What you want out of life, what you enjoy doing and what you value change throughout your life, so it makes sense that your career can change too. Whilst I wouldn’t recommend intentionally studying Arch & Anth as a route to a design career specifically, I would recommend the benefits of a squiggly career overall.

Despite studying for a degree that primarily involved digging, I gained skills that have proven invaluable in my design work, that I likely wouldn’t have gotten from a design degree. Often the transferability of soft skills is discussed when talking about switching career routes, but there can be countless hard skills that your previous experience can bring to your new role as well, that maybe wouldn’t have been covered in a more typical route.

For example, some directly beneficial skills I was able to bring forwards from Arch & Anth into design include:
Quantitative and qualitative research skills (for scoping projects)
Data handling (for collating, understanding and presenting data)
General research skills (for initial phases of projects)
Knowledge and understanding of museums (for our cultural sector clients)
Essay skills (for project write-ups)
…to name just a few!

Moving from one industry into another is a daunting prospect, especially when you’ve invested so much time (and often money!) into it already, but the biggest waste of time is investing even more in the same if you know you want to make a change. Learning new skills, broadening your experience and focusing on personal growth is never a bad thing.

Having such a broad base of skills only adds to the experiences you can draw from; the oft added second line to a ‘jack of all trades is a master of none’ is ‘but oftentimes better than master of one’. Whilst being an expert is understandably valuable, there’s no debate that both specialists and generalists can bring value to a team, and the industry as a whole.


The biggest takeaways I have from my squiggly route so far are that:

• There’s no right or wrong way to do your career,
• and it’s never too late to make a change.


Good luck!

Author | Chloe Watson