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5 Incentives for Govies to Embrace a Zig-Zag Career Path

Achieving success in today’s economy requires adapting to a new way of thinking about work. The days of following a linear career path up the ladder are over. According to LinkedIn, Gen Zers are three times more likely than their predecessors to take the risk and switch career paths, seek out roles that better match their interests and values, and offer more opportunities to grow their skills while providing better compensation. Govies are well-positioned to take on a zig-zag career path if they have the courage to make the leap. But would it be worth the risk?

What is a Zig-Zag Career Path?

A zig-zag or “squiggly” career path is an alternative to the traditional, predetermined career path. Rather than following in one direction, zig-zag careers offer more flexibility and variety. This path involves simultaneously taking on diverse roles or experiences in distinct industries and may even include internships, fellowships, work details and volunteer opportunities.

In their book The Squiggly Career, authors Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis discuss the benefits of having an erratic path, urging readers to prioritize their values and qualities, gain assurance from testing new things and build a solid network to help potential futures.

Embracing the Zig Zag

One year ago, the concept of a zig-zag career path opened a world of possibilities for me. I had been working in the same industry in government for more than 15 years and craved opportunities to stretch my skills and deepen my knowledge base. But I was scared to disrupt the safety net that my job provided. I took the risk and designed a career journey that would allow me to achieve more freedom and flexibility in the type of work I did. Volunteering to join working groups within and outside of my organization, serve on community boards and advisory councils, and bring my expertise to dynamic project teams doing innovative work allowed me to upskill, grow my network and try on different roles.


If you are a government employee and are contemplating whether you should pursue a zig-zag trajectory in your career, here are five incentives:

  1. The zig-zag approach to career development allows you to expand, broaden, and deepen skills. Four obvious benefits are skill development, diverse opportunities, demonstrating adaptability, and building a reservoir of creative learning experiences.
  2. The new world of work demands that employees have various backgrounds and skill sets that encourage moving fluidly between different roles, responsibilities, and mediums.  For example, a govie can learn to work with many people from diverse fields.  
  3. You also can learn to tackle a variety of problems and challenges working on different teams.
  4. Another benefit is gaining experience in diverse work environments through work details and rotations outside your department.
  5. Finally, you will demonstrate adaptability by learning new skills and taking them wherever you go — giving you a competitive edge.


Shifting your perspective and embracing a new mindset is not easy, especially when you’ve invested time and energy following a certain path. This article shares four tips you can employ to embark upon an unconventional career journey:

  1. Know your goals and motivations.
  2. Direct your own learning and development.
  3. Talk through your goals and ambitions with a mentor.
  4. Network continuously.

Ready to take the plunge? Set goals for what new skills and experiences you want to have. A zig-zag career path is a deliberate effort to adapt to change and can be exciting and worthwhile. But it’s not for everyone; if you want to stay competitive in your industry — go for it!

Shakima “Kima” Tozay is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker whose government career spans over 15 years, beginning in the U.S. Navy. Kima has dedicated her career to serving the military community in various roles across diverse settings and agencies.  Her current position is as a Medical Social Worker serving Veterans. She is also a Social Work doctoral student at the University of Alabama. Kima is a Certified Diversity Professional (CDP®). She also holds certifications in Executive Leadership from Graduate School, USA, and a certificate from Stanford University in Leveraging Diversity and Inclusion for Organizational Excellence. Connect with Kima on LinkedIn.

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