Embracing Zig-Zag Careers: Non-Linear Paths in Biopharma

21.08.23 Articles

We’ve all heard the well-known phrase ‘climbing the ladder’ when it comes to discussions of career progression. Is upwards really the only way forward? Not anymore. In our increasingly dynamic professional world, zig-zag careers are becoming more and more popular across different industries, and the pharma and bio industry is no exception. 

So, what do we mean by ‘zig-zag careers’? Instead of following a single, predefined career track (i.e. the ladder), a person takes a non-linear path and explores diverse roles, industries and experiences (i.e. they jump to and fro between ladders). While some still find them unconventional, zig-zag career pathways offer a plethora of benefits that can lead to personal growth, skill diversification, and ultimately, a more fulfilling professional journey.

Skill Diversification & Adaptability

One of the key advantages of a zig-zag career is the opportunity for skill diversification. For example, moving between different roles and industries allows you to gain a diverse and versatile skill portfolio. This adaptability becomes an invaluable asset in today’s ever-changing job market, where industries continuously evolve and demand individuals who can seamlessly transition into new roles. This is especially true within the CDMO industry, where the ability to wear many different hats and quickly respond to change is an essential skill to have. 

The benefit of a zig-zag career was highlighted in a recent discussion with the Vice President of QA and Regulatory Affairs at an established biomanufacturing CDMO. Brent Ryals began his career on the bench in Quality Control and then moved into Quality Assurance, however, he then took a hiatus from Quality and worked in manufacturing before returning to Quality Assurance. He explained that this career pathway, despite being a bit unique, gave him the ability to understand different perspectives and see the whole business picture, letting him “understand the business from end-to-end” which is necessary for success. 

Expanding Networks & Connections

Navigating a career across different areas in the biopharma industry naturally increases your exposure to different professionals across various backgrounds. Forming an extensive network of people in your industry is never a bad thing. These connections provide you with access to a wealth of knowledge, mentorship, and potential collaboration opportunities. A well-connected network can open doors to new career prospects and partnerships that may not have been available in a traditional, linear path. 

Personal & Professional Growth

Zig-zag careers foster continuous growth, in both a professional and personal capacity. Entering a different role allows you to experience different challenges, acquire new knowledge and cultivate an expanded mindset. This continuous learning keeps individuals engaged and motivated but also enhances their problem-solving abilities and creative thinking skills. The ability to think outside the box and tackle problems utilising a wide industry knowledge can lead to innovative breakthroughs.

From a personal growth standpoint, undertaking a non-linear career journey can be a risky exercise as you embrace uncertainty and step into an unfamiliar role. However, this also builds resilience and develops your confidence in facing ambiguity. Possessing a proactive approach to change is a valuable asset to have in today’s rapidly transforming job landscape.


Although zig-zag careers may challenge the traditional vertical career journey, it’s clear that there are a host of benefits to taking the leap into a different role. As the CDMO and biopharma industries continue to evolve and demand multifaceted expertise, embracing zig-zag careers proves advantageous not only to a person, but also to an organisation as a whole. By intentionally seeking diverse experiences, roles, and functions, individuals can cultivate adaptability, innovation, and a comprehensive understanding of the industry. These attributes, in turn, position them as valuable assets in an ever-evolving landscape where multidisciplinary expertise and a flexible mindset are prized.

Lead Candidate exist to fuel growth for those in the pharma & bio outsourcing space through talent sourcing. Our embedded partnership approach and custom built campaigns ensures that we deliver an experience unrecognisable from what you are used to.
Follow our LinkedIn here to stay up to date!