What’s a career pivot and do you need to do one?

More people than ever are considering career pivots instead of just looking for the next linear step in their career. I’ve written before about agile career paths, and career pivots are one aspect of creating those.

After such a tumultuous and unpredictable year, many people are seriously reassessing their career options. Whether you’re at risk of redundancy, have discovered a new-found love of working from home that won’t be supported by your current employer in the long-term, or whether a period of furlough has given you chance for reflection, thinking of your career in ways other than it being a straight line is a must.

American journalist and writer Michele Norris said: “Write your future in pencil…Be prepared. Plan for the future. But also be ready to pivot if a new opportunity comes your way, or if you discover something that was not part of the master plan makes your heart sing and your mind buzz with possibilities.”

What is a career pivot?

The term is used to describe a change of career direction, and conjures up images of a crossroads with different options to turn your career.  People often think of career pivots as being one huge change, a career shift where someone is completely changing their career to something else. But a pivot can be a series of smaller changes, sometimes planned, sometimes unplanned, that take you in different directions and change the course of your career.

An example would be one of my clients, a graduate in business who after completing an internship was eager to pursue a career in marketing. They secured a permanent role and developed a great career in a marketing role, becoming chartered via the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

The client really enjoyed managing her marketing team and when an opportunity to take on a role leading HR for her employer came up, she put herself forward. She discovered she enjoyed the challenge of HR relations and employee engagement. This move was the start of a pivot in her career. She moved companies and sought out mentors in HR to help her develop, then completed a Chartered Institute of Personnel Development qualification. Now she’s an HR manager in a much bigger company.

Career pivots can  go hand-in-hand with the term “portfolio career”, which is used when people have several discrete careers throughout their working life, as opposed to a series of jobs in the same industry or profession.

Another client of mine had a part time job in marketing and also invested in a holiday property, initially for personal use but then saw an opportunity to turn this into a holiday let business and multiple income stream.  She discovered a passion for finding properties and turning them into high quality accommodation and was able to pivot her career, using her marketing background and skills to help her new business venture and grow her portfolio of properties.

Adaptability is one of the key skills in a 21st century career. CABA , a charity that supports accountants and their close families with career and personal development, has created an adaptability tool to give you an insight into your adaptability and how to improve it. (I’ll declare an interest here: I deliver some of CABA’s training.) The course is based on research by Bimrose and Brown at the University of Warwick who identified five key but interrelated competencies: concern, control, curiosity commitment and confidence. Although it’s aimed at chartered accountants, much of CABA’s content is relevant to everyone.

What prompts career pivots?

Some people just fall out of love with their job. Others find themselves in a role they didn’t choose so much as fall into, maybe due to life circumstances, and are only later able to plan what they really want to do with their career. Others still have major life events which force them to re-evaluate what’s important to them. Sometimes a pivot is prompted by adapting to a changing landscape where new job roles emerge and exciting opportunities attract people to trying something different.

If, like many people, you started your career as a teenager or in your early 20s, the decisions you made then which forged your path so far may not be the right ones for you any longer. I often hear people talk about how they chose a path based on advice from teachers or parents and have then felt trapped in that career long-term once they have responsibilities.

You might be in the fortunate position of being able to plan your own career pivot, but many people also have a pivot forced upon them.

When Thomas Cook closed its doors there were thousands of travel agents, holiday reps and cabin crew, plus all of the back-office staff, suddenly looking for new jobs. Not all of them will have been able to find one in the same role, or even the same industry. Given the impact of Covid-19, many have had to pivot using their existing skillset in a different way, or by making a compete career change to a new field altogether.

How do you know if a career pivot is right for you?

You need to take time to assess and decide if a pivot is right for you, but a smaller pivot can be less scary than a total career change.  People often fear a complete leap to something new as it feels so risky. I would encourage you to take your time to think through your motivation for changing course and what you are hoping to gain from the move. Pivots often involve taking a transferable skillset and applying it in a new industry or role, so taking some time to really know yourself can be really important. I’ve given tips on this before in this blog.

Sometimes, there are safe routes to help you career pivot. You might get the opportunity of a secondment to a new area, which will allow you to try something out for size with the comfort of knowing your old job is available to you to go back to.  Volunteering is another way of testing out something to see if it really is going to be right for you too.

I would love to hear some of your stories of successful career pivots and how it happened for you!

If you want some objective and independent support to think through your next career move – whether or not that’s a career pivot, give me a call to set up a free chemistry session.


Photo by Tanner Larson on Unsplash

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