Call it career cross-training.
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that your parents’ advice about staying put in your 20s to patiently climb the corporate ladder is outdated. Women today hold an average of six jobs before age 26, with college-educated women holding more than less educated ones. “It’s very rare to see young people work anywhere for more than five years,” says Dan Schawbel, author of Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success. That’s because changing jobs, when done right, can help you get ahead faster; call it career cross-training. “To be successful in today’s complex, tech-heavy workplaces, you need a variety of skills—and the ability to adapt quickly,” says Joan Kuhl, founder of the consulting company Why Millennials Matter.
Here’s how to make smart leaps forward.
1. Move with purpose.
“Make job hopping an intentional decision,” says Emily Miethner, founder and CEO of FindSpark.com, an online networking community. In other words, switch gigs because it’ll bring you closer to your goals or help you learn new skills, not simply because a more fun or better-paying option comes along. “You want to demonstrate that you’re developing your focus and passion,” agrees Kuhl. “That will help you articulate your story to future employers more effectively.”
2. Build your network.
“Relationships are everything,” Kuhl says. So work hard to build yours—and maintain them. While changing jobs helps you meet lots of different people, it’s easy to let those relationships flounder when you move on quickly to the next thing. Keep in touch with your network through email, lunches and social media. But don’t just focus on casual contacts: Develop deep, enduring connections with mentors who inspire you. Doing so will ensure you can get thoughtful, no-holds-barred feedback when you really need it.
3. Add to your expertise.
Want to try something different, but worried you’re not qualified to change gears? There are plenty of ways to pick up new skills outside the office. “Don’t wait for an opportunity to fall into your lap,” says Miethner. “Instead, volunteer, take online classes or start a side project.” Then be sure to talk up these experiences in your next interview.