Not a Career Ladder but a Career Jungle Gym

Spring_Break_UCLA_PhotoOn my office desk, I have this photo from spring break of my first year of business school. It was 2007, and 50 of us traveled to China (Beijing and Shanghai) to meet with startups, view real estate development projects, meet with Olympics officials, and sing karaoke with Kenny G.  (That last one wasn’t on the itinerary…it was just a perk!)

This last week, I was thinking about the many career trajectories my Anderson classmates have had.  As you can see in the photo, their career progressions have been varied. Some are still with the same company they started with after graduation almost 6 years ago.  They have moved both up and sideways to gain new perspectives and challenges.

Others started at big firms and have since switched to competitors or smaller firms or even started their own businesses.  Yet others did the reverse and have brought their more entrepreneurial skillsets to larger corporations to operate at scale. And a few, who had been so sure they would stay at their companies and rise to become managing partners, discovered that their career track weren’t a fit, and found better matches somewhere else.  Everyone in this picture was successful, but each person took a different route.


In Lean In, Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg notes that today, career paths are no longer a ladder, but a jungle gym.  In 2011, Sandberg was the UCLA Anderson commencement speaker.  This was her advice to those starting their careers:

Look for opportunities, look for growth, look for impact, look for mission. Move sideways, move down, move on, move off. Build your skills, not your resume. Evaluate what you can do, not the title they’re going to give you. Do real work. Take a sales quota, a line role, an ops job. Don’t plan too much, and don’t expect a direct climb. If I had mapped out my career when I was sitting where you are, I would have missed my career.

So be open-minded to opportunities in your current internship searches and beyond.  I look forward to seeing the jungle gyms you will climb.

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