21 November 2023

The Squiggly Career

Steve Halsall

Red Tiger Consulting


There is no doubt that the world of work has changed dramatically. If I compare what work was like for my father to my own work life there are significant differences. This blog post outlines how the world of work has fundamentally changed and how people are more likely to have a squiggly career in this current age of work. This will be the first in a series of blog posts about career pathways in today’s workplace.

In my role as a recruiter I am often speaking to candidates who are interested in a change but often lack full insight and/or confidence to instigate such a change. “Stick to your knitting” is a common and acceptable path but can you lead a more fruitful and successful career if you proactively orchestrate a squiggly career?

In my role as a career coach (which will be expanded upon in future posts) I often help coachees explore their strengths, values, and beliefs in order to lead a more fruitful career. Critical to anyone’s success is playing on those things that really motivate and energise you. Having such self awareness can return significant benefits not just to yourself but also to colleagues and bosses. It can also help identify the reasons why you may feel unmotivated and provide clarity on what you need to do to change that.

What is a squiggly career?

To me a squiggly career is one that breaks with the conventional careers ‘ladder’ and allows people to be masters of their own destiny. Those people that crave challenge and continuous learning and development are more likely to have a squiggly career. The fundamental difference to when my dad was working is that individuals are now responsible for curating their own career path, whereas historically that reliance has been on the organisation to dictate the path.

Changes in the workplace

It is quite scary how things have changed over the last 50 years. For a start, technological innovation has meant that some things are completely different. My earliest memories of Dad in work mode was when he would speak into his cassette dictaphone in order for his secretary to type up his notes/letters. I started this blog post by dictating my thoughts into my phone and relying on voice recognition to convert my voice into typed text.

My father would tend to leave for work morning at around 7.30/8am and much to my annoyance return in time to tell me to stop watching Grange Hill at 5.15/5.20pm. I will often start work at 8 o’clock in the morning because I don’t have a commute. Candidates can book time in my calendar between 8am and 7pm – permitted by the rules I set to Calendly (more enabling technology).

I try, as a rule, to work a four-day week. My father would always work 9-5 (ish) five days a week. I’m often working into the evenings; it is now 8.15pm and I’m typing this on the sofa with the football on in the background. I think employees have increasing flexibility on the hours they choose. More companies are showing that flexibility to their employees.

Dad would never be contacted with work related matters (on the house phone!) in the evenings or on a weekend. Our family holidays were exactly that, holidays, and a real chance to switch off from work life.

This is in stark contrast to today’s ‘always connected’ work environment. The digital revolution now means that people can be contacted at any time of the day, any day of the week, any week of the year. Don’t get me wrong – as a recruiter who is often travelling this can be really useful if a quick response is needed.

Being a company director does mean that it is really hard to switch off and have the discipline to not be a slave to my email, particularly in the holidays. I find it is good practice to limit notifications and alerts and be strict about times of complete digital detox. The only time I was fully off was last year up Kilimanjaro where there was near zero signal for 8 days. Leavism is a significant issue. This is a term coined by Dr Ian Hesketh, which was extended to include occasions whereby employees took work home and/or on holiday that they could not complete in paid working hours.

Place of work is different. My Dad would go to the same office every day. He did go out into the field quite frequently but there was just one office he would tend to go to. My work is very different. I worked out of the pub in London last week and this week I am splitting my time between my home office and my brothers office. I can literally work anywhere, and technology has enabled that.

Dress code has changed – this morning I was apologising to the candidates I spoke to first thing for being a bit of a scruff – I hadn’t left any time to change after walking the dog. My dad always wore a suit, shirt, and tie. I do dress smart but I can’t remember the last time I wore a suit and tie to work.

Today’s workers tend to be more isolated. The hybrid working model has meant that people aren’t in offices as much. It is harder to build meaningful relationships via a computer screen.

Dad would find new roles advertised in relevant trade magazines. When I started my career the main source of jobs in my area was via broadsheet newspaper jobs sections. Nowadays there are a plethora of sources, from LinkedIn, job sites like Monster or Indeed, companies advertising via their own website or via recruitment consultants.

Change is as good as a rest

I’m an example of someone who has had a squiggly career. I started life as a research analyst in real estate, then moved to a leisure operator as an insight analyst. I then set up my own business aged 30, where I had the position of Sales & Marketing Director and then sold that business to an American corporation.

I had a brief stint at Deloitte and then I worked for CACI, heading up their Property Group for 7 years before leaving to open Bicester’s first 24-hour gym. I then tried contracting and worked for 2 years as a contractor at Grant Thornton before giving up work to look after my mum. I then set up Red Tiger Talent as a recruitment consultant with my brother. We added training courses to our repertoire and more recently I’ve become an accredited business and life coach.

I look back on each of these significant changes as an exciting chapter to my career – kicked off with significant learning as I would often do something that took me out of my comfort zone. These changes could be seen as risky, but each was a calculated, measured risk.

Restructures are now a way of life – there is no such thing as a job for life. I know of so many talented people who have been made redundant. This is further evidence of people needing to take control of their career plan.

What other differences in the workplace have you observed since your parents were working?

Is there anything I have missed? 

What other changes will there be in the future?

One for sure will be the fact that 5 generations will be working together in the workplace. That is such a diverse range of experiences, needs, values, and strengths.  Whether as an individual or an organisation, forging a successful career in such a fast paced and varied work environment has its challenges. The good news is that there are company’s such as Red Tiger Talent who are here to help.

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Published by Steve Halsall

Steve is the founder of Red Tiger Consulting. He has worked in Location Planning for over 20 years – both on the consultancy side and client side. His passion is building successful teams that evolve their capability (skills, software and data) to meet the ever changing requirements of analysis. In his spare time he is mainly kept busy with his two children, falling in and out of love with Liverpool FC and at some point he wants to re-start his golfing ‘career’.


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