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How to Make a Career Pivot: The Ultimate No B.S. Guide

We’re breaking down the art of the career pivot.

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This article is part of Making Moves Week where we’re exploring the ways you can change your career effective immediately. Don’t change who you are, change where you are.  

To stay or to go—that is not always the question. In fact, most of the time, the question is more like: “I know I want to go, but how do I do it the right way—and is this even the right time?”

As someone who’s made career pivots several times from the art world to working in tech (after teaching myself to code, no less) to corporate America and back, knowing you’re ready for a new opportunity is much easier than deciding how to get started. That’s why, today, we’re breaking down the art of making a career pivot into some easy steps, courtesy of the experts.

Table of Contents

Step 1: Understand What a Career Pivot Actually Is

It’s not always a beat-yourself-over-the-head desire to quit your job, implode your career, and start with a totally clean slate. Think of a career pivot as a moment after you’ve hit your stride—and you’re realizing that the stride now feels too easy.

“Many people hit a plateau in their careers and feel an inexplicable urge to do things differently. The way they have been working is no longer working for them,” says Jenny Blake, author of Pivot: The Only Move That Matters is Your Next One.

A career pivot usually aligns with a pivotal moment in your life and work, one where you have the choice to stay with the status quo or take a measured risk to increase your career pace.

According to Blake, “I define a career pivot as doubling down on what is working to make a purposeful shift in a new, related direction. Pivoting is an intentional, methodical process for nimbly navigating career changes.”

As you start to plan a pivot of your own, keep that word in mind: intentional. A pivot should make you feel a little uncomfortable, but you should always feel a sense of confidence in what you’re doing.

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Step 2: Do a Gut Check to Determine Whether You Need a Career Pivot

Last year, we interviewed Celine Martin, a people operations specialist at the digital marketing platform Vendasta about how to tell its time for a career change. According to Martin, you should be on the lookout for the following signs:

  • You feel disengaged in your day-to-day work
  • You lack the energy and enthusiasm to get your work done
  • You dread waking up to go to your job in the morning
  • You’re staying on a career path simply because of the pay, power, or title it offers

Does that sound like you? Proceed to Step 3.

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Step 3: Do a Self-Inventory

Unlike concert tickets and plane flights, strengths and skills are fully transferable meaning what you know now can help you in your next career move. Before you make any major decisions about shifting your career goals, asking for a raise or promotion, or even updating your resume, spend a couple hours analyzing how far you’ve come—and the unique value adds you’d bring to any role—and what you’ll need to add to your arsenal to take your next steps.

In an interview with Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, Business Talent Group’s CEO, Jody Greenstone Miller, recommends something like a personal and professional audit:

“You must understand your gaps. Ask yourself: What do I know? What skills and experiences do I have? What do I need for the next step? ‘You’re really doing an inventory,” Miller says.”

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Step 4: Create a Plan to Fill Those Gaps

Once you’ve found the weak spots, you’ll need to come up with a strategy to toughen them up. Make a list of elements you’d like to learn, especially the skills that you find interesting but know aren’t your forté.

Maybe you need to learn web design or how to code. Maybe you’re realizing that you lack a strong network, so you’ll need to sign up for some meetups or conferences. Maybe you know you want to change industries, so you need to start reading trade publications and websites to improve your knowledge gap.

Make a list of the areas you’d like to improve, then arrange them according to time and cost commitment. What can you start learning today, right now, for free? (One answer: you could sign up for our free online coding bootcamp…)

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Step 5: Make a Launch Plan With Metrics

Blake argues that you should set criteria so you’ll know exactly when it’s time to make your move. That way “[y]ou will have a clearer idea for when to launch based on reaching certain thresholds, and will know when you need to adjust if your experiments are not going as planned.”

Forbes outlines her full list of criteria, but there are several metrics to explore including:

  • Financial Benchmarks – Things like: having six months of savings before quitting my job to try to freelance full-time or “money earned”, i.e. setting a goal for how much income you’d need to be making from your side hustle before you gave it more attention.
  • Data-based Planning – Setting a target date to work towards (the idea of #100daysofcode is a great example, if you’re interested in shifting towards a tech career) or a target number of weeks/months to explore a new industry or potential career move.
  • Progress Milestones – Checking in on your work by tracking the number of projects you’d like to accomplish, the number of informational interviews you’d like to complete, or even the number of clients you accrue (if you’re considering pivoting to working for yourself).
  • Instincts/Intuition – At the end of the day, you’ll need to follow your gut to a certain extent. According to Blake this includes feelings like “I’m ready” but also “I can’t stay at this job any longer, I’m too miserable.”

You may see a trend here—planning a career pivot requires that you set goals that are both actionable and measurable. One of the best ways we’ve found to plan a career pivot is to apply SMART goals to the process.

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Step 6: Pivot Your Pitch (Before You Start Pitching Yourself)

Career changes are all about spin. Whether you’re planning to ask your boss for new responsibilities, you’re ready to switch industries, or you’re considering reaching out to your network about that side business you’ve been dreaming of launching, you’ll need to have a strong elevator pitch—one that proves that you’re ready for, and capable of, change.

Start by revisiting those skills you outlined in your audit in Step 3, then follow our step-by-step guide to the perfect elevator pitch. Then practice. Start by rehearsing your pitch on family and friends. Then upgrade by testing it out on a stranger at a dinner party. Next step: head for at least one networking event a month.

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Step 7: Update All Your Materials

Now that you know where you want to be, what you’ll need to do to get there, and how to pitch yourself in the best light, it’s time to update your materials. Upgrade your resume with a savvy 2019 resume template, maximize your LinkedIn, and maybe even order some personal business cards.

Most importantly, you need to start telling people you’re making a change. The more you leverage your network, the better off you’ll be. If the goal is to shift from a dead-end media job to working as a stellar digital marketer, stop introducing yourself as an “editorial assistant.” The next time you meet someone new, say “Hi, I’m [your name here] and I’m a [your dream industry and speciality here.” It’s amazing how quickly putting a name to your dream will work in your favor.

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Step 8: Treat Every Opportunity Like It’s H-U-G-E

Making a career pivot will take time and resilience. Especially if you’re moving into a new industry, it may feel strange to have less experience than you’re used to having. Think back to a time (maybe not so long ago even) when you were brand new in the professional world. You were overwhelmed some days. You were eager to prove yourself. Most of all, you were hungry.

As you begin to feel some traction, say yes to everything you can and approach even the smallest jobs or projects with gusto. You never know whether your passion for that tiny assignment will lead to big, big things.

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Step 9: Now Let Go of the Safety Net

You can prepare for weeks, months, or even years, but a career pivot will always carry some risks. Still, that’s often where the greatest opportunities lie.

When I interviewed Ahyiana Angel, the founder of the Switch, Pivot or Quit podcast, about how she made some major career pivots of her own, she had this to say:

“Once you make that big leap, and you don’t have a cushion to fall back on, you’re more willing to take chances. You’re more observant of what’s going on around you, who you are in this space, and what you probably need to be doing.”

Give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Even if you’re embarking on a brand new career in a brand new field, you know a lot more than you think you do.

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You Will Learn: If a career in tech is right for you What tech careers fit your strengths What skills you need to reach your goals

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Scott Morris

Scott Morris is Skillcrush's staff writer and content producer. Like all the members of Skillcrush's team, he works remotely (in his case from Napa, CA). He believes that content that's worth reading (and that your audience can find!) creates brands that people follow. He's experienced writing on topics including jobs and technology, digital marketing, career pivots, gender equity, parenting, and popular culture. Before starting his career as a writer and content marketer, he spent 10 years as a full-time parent to his daughters Veronica and Athena.

Category: Blog