Are You Building Your Career Pyramid? | Lindsey Pollak's Blog

Are You Building Your Career Pyramid?

pyramidsI had the complete joy today of having absolutely nothing to do. It was pouring rain, SeamlessWeb delivered bagels and coffee directly to my door, and my husband and his best friend had plans to watch nonstop football.

So, I camped out upstairs in our apartment — computer turned off! — and read pretty much the entire Sunday New York Times cover to cover. In addition to reading Bono’s op-ed, a review of Gail Collins’ new book about women and, as always, the wedding announcements (“the sports pages for women”), I came across an interview with Carol Bartz, the CEO of Yahoo.

In the interview, Bartz is asked to share her best career advice. She says the following:

“You need to build your career not as a ladder, but as a pyramid. You need to have a base of experience because it’s a much more stable structure. And so that involves taking lateral moves. And it involves getting out of your comfort zone.”

It’s no secret that the concept of a career ladder, in which you rise up each rung in a direct (and precarious) upward trajectory, is no longer relevant to the realities of today’s work world. I was excited when, a few years ago, Deloitte’s Cathy Benko and Anne C. Weisberg, authors of Mass Career Customization, coined an alternative term: “career lattice.” They defined this as a career that exists as “an undulating journey of climbs and lateral moves.”

I like the lattice image, especially in a corporate context as Benko and Weisberg designed it, but for career paths in general I love the pyramid analogy. It suggests that, in the early years of one’s career especially, your job is to build a foundation that will be the base for future career decisions and accomplishments. It suggests that a career is something from which you can’t “fall off” or “fall through the cracks.” It connotes stability and strength.

Furthermore, a pyramid can be custom built to any specifications. The current Wikipedia entry on pyramids notes, “The base of a pyramid can be trilateral, quadrilateral, or any polygon shape, meaning that a pyramid has at least four faces.” (Plus, if you envision a pyramid that looks like a progression of steps, you can also incorporate the helpful concept of “leveling up,” which Chris Brogan wrote about recently.)

It’s no secret that many of us have various “faces” at any given point in our careers. I’m thinking of a newly entrepreneurial friend whose pyramid “base” is her seven years at a law firm learning the basics of negotiation and communication. Or my husband, whose base includes eight years in magazine advertising sales that has now grown into a role as VP of sales for a digital media company. Or my own career pyramid, that started with a base of writing and speaking experience and has grown into a business with a variety of “faces.”

What do you think of the idea of career pyramids? Do you think this is a helpful analogy for the “shape” of 21st Century careers? Please share in the Comments!

Originally published on Fast Company 

Image: The Ancient Digger

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  1. […] Read the rest here: A­re You Build­ing Your Ca­reer Pyra­m­­id­? | Lind­sey Poll… […]

  2. This concept has been around for years! We’ve discussed (and lectured) that your career is no longer linear but a matrix. That you build based on getting experiences in a number of different areas (in a number of different ways). You will have to access your skill set (actively and realistically) and grab experiences along your career matrix accordingly.

    Your Career Matrix (call it a pyramid if you wish) is on you!

  3. I could not agree more, Lindsey. The metaphor of the career pyramid for a solid and secure career is excellent. Our collected knowledge, skills and abilities — demonstrated through our experiences — give us the security and flexibility to move across levels and functions within and across organizations. A strong foundation offers more freedom to move and change roles or companies. A strong foundation also gives us a greater repertoire to build other aspects of our careers, such as developing sources of passive income, or starting an entrepreneurial venture.

  4. absolutely! it’s got a multiplicity of pyramids and moving circles! interfaces, connections, and practicing purpose with passion…

  5. Jaana Valimaki says:

    Great post!
    The idea of a pyramid analogy is new to me yet interesting and so refreshing! I think that especially in today’s world where the competition is just getting more vigorous, it’s extremely important to have that foundation that will help you to create a base for your future accomplishments. It is also needed since we need more and more diverse and complex skills to remain competitive so having that base is crucial.

  6. Curtis Chambers says:

    Great metaphor, talk about turning a paradigm on its head. The pyramid is a much better image and model than the ladder, which was based on old fashioned corporate America.

  7. Talk about turning a paradigm on its head. The pyramid seems to me a much better image than the ladder, which had its roots in old fashioned corporate America. A good and useful metaphor.

  8. Bobby says:

    Thank you for your helpful example. Looking at career moves as if it were a pyramid is a useful tip when making lateral moves that sometimes feel like not making any progress at all. Thanks again.

  9. The pyramid structure also leaves room for taking time out for your family and building work-life balance into the picture.