Threading the Corkscrew: Non-Ladder/Non-Lateral Job Advancement

by Naomi House, MLIS
previously published 4/24/14

Threading the Corkscrew: Non-Ladder/Non-Lateral Job Advancement

CAM00119I have not had the most traditional work-life for a librarian.  I didn’t get my undergrad degree, then my MLIS and then get a job in a library or information center.  I spent years in grocery stores and import stores working the register, customer service, selling wine (even though I am a non-drinker) and assembling furniture. I once sold vacuums by telephone for two days, but it ended badly.  I  was recruited by a temp agency because of my customer service skills at the import store.  Granted, I was in retail because I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do as a career, so I was open to wherever they placed me.  They placed me in a library and the rest is history.  Or is it?

Even working within the LIS field there are many career trajectories you can have and many strategies for advancing in your career.  Three that focus on what type of job you move into and how you move into it are the ones I will focus on here.  We have all heard of climbing the ladder of advancement and moving laterally from similar position to similar position but my career, even within libraries, has been more like threading a corkscrew, meaning that though the jobs may at first appear dissimilar the skills gained at each helped me wind my way up in a non-linear way to where I am today.

Climbing the Ladder

This is the first thing that comes to mind when we think f jobs advancement.  Another way of putting it is working your way up (the ladder analogy).  This scenario starts with working in one type of job, then being promoted and finally landing at a job that supervises the same types of positions you started out in. Advantages:  The greatest advantage is that by working at the various levels you have a depth of knowledge about your field/department/area of expertise that one can only get having worked long and hard and at various levels.  Another advantage to this strategy is that your network is tighter, more familiar with your work and therefore your competition is smaller.  Being a known quantity in a field (as long as you do good work and have good managers who appreciate it) can be an advantage.

Moving Laterally Between Jobs

Moving laterally means moving from one position into a very similar one at another workplace, at the same level.  Sometimes this strategy is not appreciated as advancement, after all the implication is that by moving sideways you are not advancing but stagnating.  This is a false assumption.  Advantages:  Moving laterally means there will be less of a learning curve.  You would already understand many of the most basic and even some of the more complex aspects of the position.  The most important thing to me is that moving laterally does not stagnate you.  Simply put there are ALWAYS new things too learn and new skills you will develop at an workplace.  No two jobs in our field at two different employers are identical.  There will be workforce development trainings perhaps, or cross-training opportunities.  Whatever they are take advantage of them.

Threading the Corkscrew

Threading the corkscrew is a term I came up with when I had an interview for a job that was not a lateral move for me but wasn’t a direct advancement either.  I wanted to show the hiring committee the depth and breadth of my work experience and explain how all the jobs in my career fit into a path that wold make sense.  Advantages:  When your career is not one career but a series of careers showing translatable skill sets gained can be an advantage.  You will have a depth of knowledge about related careers that those just in the LIS field won’t while also having a breadth of experience and skill sets beyond the traditional LIS ones.  Another way that this path is helpful is for transitioning mid-career employees because it means that you are ready for something new.  Threading the corkscrew means that you are never trying to take your boss’s job.  Your focus is not on inter-office politics but on the skills you are gaining.  And by employing this strategy you see your career as less of one field or two but all jobs as inter-related, whatever field they are in.


Whichever strategy you employ or stumble into there are advantages.  Knowing these advantages and being able to articulate them to hiring committees can help you land a position and even help you see how potential jobs make sense as part of your career advancement journey.



Further reading: Why a Winding Career Path is Totally OK


Naomi House

Naomi House, MLIS, is the founder and publisher of the popular LIS jobs resource (formerly I Need a Library Job). Founded in October 2010 with the assistance of her fellow Rutgers classmate, Elizabeth Leonard, INALJ’s social media presence has grown to include Facebook (retired in 2016), Twitter and a LinkedIn group, in addition to the interviews, articles and jobs found on INALJ has had over 20 Million page views and helped thousands of librarians and LIS folk find employment! Through grassroots marketing, word of mouth and a real focus on exploring unconventional resources for job leads, INALJ grew from a subscription base of 20 friends to a website with over 500,000 visits in a month. Naomi believes that well-sourced quantity is quality in this narrow job market and INALJ reflects this many new jobs published daily. She was a 2013 Library Journal Mover & Shaker and has served on the University of Maryland iSchool Board from 2014-2017. Naomi was a Reference, Marketing and Acquisitions Librarian for a contractor at a federal library outside Washington, DC, and now lives part time in Western NY and Budapest, Hungary. She has heard of spare time but hasn’t encountered it lately. She pronounces INALJ as eye-na-elle-jay. 


  4 comments for “Threading the Corkscrew: Non-Ladder/Non-Lateral Job Advancement

  1. Kat
    April 28, 2015 at 12:45 am

    I’ve also had a nontraditional trajectory–maybe we should start a facebook group or something.

    I would like to add one more strategy based on my own experiences–move out to move up. By this I mean you may have to move out of your current organization, to move up the career ladder. I made changes that were somewhat lateral, but also somewhat vertical. Saved me years of waiting for my turn; a turn that didn’t come for many people once the recession hit.

    • April 28, 2015 at 11:28 am

      Love it! That would be fun! If you create one let us know here (comments close after a few days but always feel free to email me and I can share!)

  2. Dan Robinson
    April 27, 2015 at 8:45 pm

    Thanks for a good description of my career path. I did it at one company, but I didn’t follow a traditional path at all. What I did get were some of the most interesting experiences in the field.

  3. Janet Crum
    April 24, 2014 at 7:03 pm

    I’ve also stepped off the traditional career path, taking a step down and moving into a different type of setting. I think you hit on a key point when you talk about showing how all the jobs in your career fit together. Whether you’re on a traditional path or not, it’s important in both the cover letter and interview to tell your story clearly and concisely. How does your unique mix of experience and knowledge make you a strong candidate for the position you want? Too many people make hiring committees guess, and they’ll often guess wrong. Connect the dots for them, and you just might convince them.

    Thanks for a nice overview of career paths!

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