We’ve all heard the saying that the only constant in life is change, but the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic downturn have brought about unprecedented changes that are impacting companies and workers more dramatically than at any time in recent history. As organizations reevaluate their business models, staffing levels and workforce, you might find yourself reevaluating your career goals and considering a change in direction. Whether you are choosing to make a change or are driven by the current workplace volatility, making a career pivot now could be a smart strategy to improve your career prospects going forward.
Understanding the basic idea of what it means to pivot can be helpful in approaching a change in career direction, according to career coach Jody Michael (The Career Pivot (Your Career Direction)). To pivot is to shift direction by rotating around a central point. In sports, such as basketball or martial arts, a pivot is made with one foot anchored in place while the other foot moves into a different space, with the planted foot providing stability. Michael suggests thinking of the anchor foot as your foundation of values, skills, experiences and accomplishments, providing balance and strength as your other foot moves into a new area. When you pivot in your career, you’re not throwing away what you’ve accrued in skills and experiences, but rather using them as the anchor that helps you shift in a new direction.
If you’re thinking about a career pivot, approaching it carefully and thoughtfully can help you transition into a new direction more effectively. Here are some suggestions from career experts:
Do a self-inventory
Your current strengths and skills are transferable; what you know now can help you in your next career move. Before you make any major decisions about shifting your goals, first spend some time thinking about the unique value adds you would bring to any role. Then focus on what you will need to add to your skillset to make a successful transition, says career advisor Kit Warchol (How to Make a Career Pivot: The Ultimate No B.S. Guide). Ask yourself: What do I know? What skills and experiences do I already have? Where are the gaps in my knowledge and skills? What do I need to learn to be able to take the next steps?
Develop a strategy to fill the gaps
Once you’ve found the gaps, develop a strategy to fill them. If there are specific skills you need or would like to learn, look online for training opportunities. If you feel you lack a strong network, sign up for some meetups or conferences (virtual for the foreseeable future). If you’re thinking of changing industries, start reading trade publications and company websites to improve your knowledge gap. Prioritize the list of areas you’d like to improve by time and cost commitment, availability, etc., then start your learning and development process.
Create an action plan for change
Design your action plan with the end in mind. Career strategist Jenny Foss (8 Steps to an Utterly Successful Career Change) suggests you identify your primary goals and ideal timeline, then break them down into major milestones—acquiring new skills, researching companies, connecting with people inside target companies, doing informational interviews, strategizing when/how to leave your current job (if employed), etc. Foss recommends assigning yourself daily or weekly tasks so that you know what you’ll be doing to further your “career pivot.” As you complete these tasks, you’ll also likely notice how small steps tend to have a snowball effect and give you both momentum and confidence that a career change is a very real possibility.
Craft a compelling story about why you are making a career change
People tend to respond to stories over facts. Most hiring managers will want to know why you’re seeking to make a change, so crafting an interesting and persuasive answer to that inevitable question is important. This is an opportunity, says marketing director Mike Zimm (Follow these 5 tips if you want to make a career pivot), to articulate how past interests and goals have brought you to this point, and how your core values, soft skills and hard skills will be valuable to this new organization.
Let your network know about your career pivot
The more people know about your career change goals, the better. Talk to family, friends, former co-workers and anyone you meet about your desire to make a career pivot. Besides the potential for getting leads and support from others, talking about your career goals will help make achieving them more real and attainable for you.
Expand your network to people within your target industry
It’s essential that you get to know successful people working within your new field of interest. People are more generous with their time and input than you think, especially when you show interest in them. The best way to approach is by paying a compliment or noting something they’re doing that seems interesting or impressive. After you build a bit of rapport, then you can ask for a favor or a little of their time to gather inside information about the company or industry.
As the career changer, a pivot puts you on a new path and potentially a new way of thinking about your career. It often means venturing into something unknown, unfamiliar and possibly uncomfortable, but it helps to remember that a pivot is not necessarily a complete do-over. A career pivot opens you up to new possibilities by using what you have in new ways.