THOUGHT PIECE the carling team

What Are The Common Strategic Career Moves In Brewing And Distilling?

Based on my research with members of the brewing and distilling industry, and my experience as a career coach, it is clear that there are some career moves which are a key part of a strategy for long term career progression – these moves might sometimes look like diversions or sideways moves, but could be seen more as ‘branching’ moves because they offer the opportunity to widen career options in the future.

Branching moves are often being used when the next logical career step is effectively blocked because of a common ‘Catch 22’ situation: the skills needed for progression are difficult to gain in the current role. For example, commercial skills may be needed for promotion, but they can be hard to acquire in a busy production role. A strategic sideways move to access these skills is therefore quite common.

Another reason for making a sideways move is to access entirely new career tracks. The incentives to do this vary from seeking better long-term career sustainability in another area, the wish to get a better work/life balance or for improving pay prospects. For example, moving away from shift work in order to access roles that would better accommodate family life.

In some cases, a sideways career moves to another company were useful to open up possibilities such as finding a company size and culture that better ‘fits’ and gives increased career options and job satisfaction.


An excellent way to build the new skill sets required for career progression, and continually develop a broad range of skills, is to take a diversion – proactively look for an internal career move to fill the skills gaps. For example, if your longer-term career goal is in NPD, then moving to the brand team to understand ‘brand language’ and the commercial side was a useful strategy. If you are looking at leadership roles in production or technical areas, consider taking a role in procurement where you will gain financial and commercial skills. A popular move to gain more line management experience, was spending a couple of years leading teams in packaging. But, since these are branching moves to gain skills and build agility, it is also important to make sure that they are not one way moves and that you are able to move back onto your target career track once you have gained the experience.


It’s possibly one of the best kept secrets, but roles in the allied industries are especially useful as strategic career moves. Technical roles in the allied industries will usually involve consultancy activities which means that you will gain client-facing experience, commercial experience as well as exposure to a wide range of technical issues across different production sites. Technical sales roles will build exceptional skills in building relationships and developing top notch troubleshooting abilities. These skills then open up a wide range of career opportunities going forward and, through building your network as you work with a variety of clients, provides the contacts to access these opportunities. You may even like it better than working in production and decide to stay!


Lack of cultural fit was identified as one of the key reasons for missing out on promotions to more senior roles. A new company can therefore offer the opportunity of working for an organization where you have a better cultural fit and so longer-term career prospects. This strategy therefore requires fully understanding the culture before you move, and our team at Carling can support you with this. In this case, you may be at your most competitive (or will be headhunted) applying for roles if you are looking at a sideways move and a similar role. But it is a good strategic sideways move which opens up new prospects.
Moving to another company was also being used to optimise work life balance. For example, moving from a corporate to a national brewery was being used to achieve opportunities for career progression without the need for regular relocation.


Within the craft industry, my interviewees identified a trend in early career for regular sideways moves – about every 1-2 years. The strategy was to work on as wider range of technical set ups as possible as well as get experience with a broad range of product types, which increased the competitiveness for ‘Head’ roles. This approach also provided the experience to judge what worked well (and not so well!) for those who intended to set up their own business as well as creating a network of trusted colleagues e.g. suppliers.


‘Perish the thought’ you might say, but diverting into other industries to gain skills was identified as a useful strategy! This is particularly the case if you are not getting the development opportunities in your current role, and perhaps are also not able to relocate. For example, a move into the dairy industry – which is still about moving liquids between tanks – can give you a great experience with advanced hygiene practices. Moving into soft drinks can also be insightful for issues around microbial stability and filling – and consider also how it feeds into the trend for low alcohol products, Kombucha type drinks and using novel botanicals! These experiences can then support you to bounce back into your chosen industry, but with an enhanced CV to make you more competitive.


It may be that your longer term career plan is to have the flexibility to move between different industries and sectors – given the pace of change in all industries, this is about sustainable planning. In this case, there were roles that can work well as ‘bridges’. For example, quality roles are very transferable since quality systems tend to be very similar across industries and operate to the same external standards and kite marks. Project management experience was also very transferable and was being used to create career sustainability.


Many branching career moves do not come with a salary increase and may even involve a drop in pay! However, these strategic moves are all about what skills you will gain, what new career tracks you can access or other advantages such as optimising lifestyle or increasing sustainability. With some career moves, such as roles in the allied industries, you may have a lot to learn and will need to prove yourself – how will you perform in a client meeting? – and so your compensation package will reflect this. In other words, branching career moves are more about long term career planning and being strategic about where you want to go.


With my career coaching hat on, I would also stress that moving away from thinking about your career in a linear fashion towards visualising it as a range of more complex interconnecting paths can be really helpful. Sideways moves and diversions are a part of this complexity – but are also a key part of a strategy to open up new paths and improve your career sustainability.

Dr Caroline Walker is an IBD fellow and an accredited Executive coach. She offers specialised online career coaching and mentoring for the industry. She can be contacted at or through Linked in Dr Caroline Walker | LinkedIn