It’s been on your mind and you just can’t stop thinking about it— a career pivot. And you’re certainly not alone. In the last quarter of 2024, the number of departing CEOs was up 16% with some experts saying this quarter could bring an even higher wave of exits. It’s quite apparent that the global pandemic has forced everyone from CEO’s on down, to reassess their relationship with work – whether it’s burnout or simply reshuffled priorities, many are contemplating whether a career change could be the solution.
Gallup recently polled employees on what criteria was most important to them when deciding whether to accept a new job. The poll revealed that pay and wellbeing-related issues have both risen significantly in recent years, clinching the first and second spots as the most important factors for accepting a job elsewhere.
And given that record numbers of employees have quit their jobs in a search of higher salaries and more favorable situations, businesses suddenly are scrambling to fill millions of open positions.
This undeniable sea change makes the waters just right for your career pivot.
As someone who has made many pivots, let’s just say I’m a fan. I know first- hand that this is far from a cookie-cutter situation. Your career is an incredibly personal journey, and I’m here to tell you that a career pivot does not have to make sense to anyone but you. You are the only one living your experience; therefore you are the only one who truly has a pulse on your own happiness and success. Since this is a subject near to my heart, I want to offer my unique perspective on this topic. In this article, I will examine the different types of career pivots and I will offer you some actionable Top Tips so that you will have all the tools you need to succeed.
First, we need to shift our mindset about careers altogether. Often, when we think about careers, we can’t help but frame them in a way that is all about climbing the ladder. This concept of a career as a ladder is an idea that has been around for about 100 years. It’s our default thinking. But the truth is that we really need to let go of the ladder and the ladder-like thinking about our careers because it’s kind of like the dinosaur in the room—which is to say, it’s becoming extinct!
I’m with Sheryl Sandberg, who cited the famous quote by Pattie Sellers: Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder. Careers are no longer one size fits all. Each of our careers develops in different directions, and it does not necessarily proceed up a ladder. A more useful lens to use when thinking about your career development is to think of your career as a winding path and how you can strategically navigate your unique path with confidence and determination.
My own career path has taken unconventional twists, bends, and turns. I started out as an entrepreneur, sold my business and went back to school to get an MBA. Then, I became a management consultant for a number of years, after which I created another business which I also sold. I have been an entrepreneur, consultant, facilitator, writer and speaker. One might say, I am a professional career pivoter. For traditional people, my career path would make their head explode, but for me, this twisty and unpredictable path suits my strengths and my skills. I am someone who loves to start something from scratch. For me happiness at work means - I love to be continually challenged and I love to do my own thing.
Now, your career pivot might look nothing like mine, and that’s fine. You may be at the beginning stages of pondering a pivot, or you might have been thinking about this for some time and now you feel stuck and you need some inspiration to get started. Wherever you are in the process I am going to give you ideas for action.
First, let’s understand the different kinds of career pivots and which one most suits you. Sometimes when we think about pivots and what they mean, we immediately jump to the idea of a radical career redo. You think, I am pivoting therefore I am changing everything overnight.
Actually, research shows that the most successful pivots are incremental or lateral. And the most successful pivots are those that are not about dramatic change but are instead a small tweak. These small tweaks are more about stretching your existing strengths instead of transforming into something completely new.
So what I want to talk about are 3 different pivot possibilities that you might want to consider. And as I explain each one, you can think about what feels the best for you right now.
- 90 degree Pivot - This one is more of a tweak than a transformation. Think of this as a small change in your existing role. This one can go in a lot of directions – which makes it quite accessible for a lot of people. This is about
stretching your strengths in a different way.
- On your existing team: This pivot involves thinking about where else you can be useful and helpful for your team. This might mean stretching within your current role which could lead to new responsibilities.
- On an adjacent team: This might mean honing in on your strengths and skills and helping another team with one of your particular talents. Think about a skill, strength, or talent from a previous role that you aren’t currently using.
- Side Hustle? – Bring it in!: Another stretch might be to bring in an outside interest to your existing organization. Are you interested in something outside of work—maybe it’s your side hustle, maybe it’s an area of expertise—think about running a workshop/talk/mini learning session in your current organization. This can also be a great low-risk first step on an entrepreneurial journey.
- 180 degree Pivot– Not all pivots require you to leave your current company. Many people are often surprised how malleable their current organization might be when it comes to redesigning or reimagining your current role. I
consider this type of pivot more of a wiggle than a huge shift.
- Within your current organization: Sometimes a sideways or lateral move in the organization is a great way to pivot. For example, this could look like a move from finance to sustainability. In order to do this well, think about how you can add value in your new role. If you are thinking of an internal pivot, think about that one manager that you need to convince. Connect the dots for them. Make the case for your particular set of strengths and why that is exactly what the organization needs. Explain what makes you particularly unique and how you can use all of your knowledge from one part of the business to benefit another part of the organization in an impactful way.
- Reconfiguring your current role: Maybe you are happy in your current position but you would like to shift your priorities a bit. Maybe you want the flexibility to work 4 days a week instead of 5. Maybe you want one day a week to volunteer, to pursue a new passion or to spend more time with your family. This pivot is more of a reprioritization or re-definition of your current role. And remember, nothing is permanent. Nothing is set in stone.
- 360 degree Pivot– This is the big one—it’s a pivot to something completely new, starting from scratch. This one feels very exciting and inspiring, and probably scary! It’s a whole new career. This pivot requires a good support system and a good amount of preparation. This one is the most risky but potentially the most rewarding. I can speak from experience, I have done this one – a few times – and I can confirm, yes, it is anxiety-inducing, but if it works out, it will rejuvenate your entire mindset about your career.
Ok, this is what we all came for. What can I do? What kinds of actions can I take that will actually move me forward in this process?
- STEP ONE: You want a change, but you don’t where to start. You do this
at the very beginning where you are open to learning and trying to figure out
in which direction you want to pivot. This will cure you from feeling stuck.
But…how do you even begin to get curious about opportunities?
- Go to LinkedIn (or monster.com, or indeed.com, or any job board whatsoever). Just look at job opportunities. Pick 5-10 different roles that you are attracted to. Pick jobs where there is something that you find intriguing, something that draws you to those jobs. Remember you are not applying to those roles. This is liberating because you can ignore all of the stuff you don’t like—you are just using this for insight and for data. In fact, it is best to think as far and wide as you can. Do not restrict your search to your industry. Underline or circle the things that drew you to those roles. Collect first, and then see what they all have in common. Maybe the themes are collaboration or design. Wherever the common threads exist, those will be your career criteria.
- Career Non-Negotiables: By scanning and exploring you will begin to understand your career non-negotiables. I urge you to find 2-3 non-negotiables – not more than that. Non-negotiables will give you energy and excitement. Use your non-negotiables as a magnet and allow yourself to be drawn in those directions. They will open up possibilities and opportunities. You will find that you can really open your thinking to things that you hadn’t considered before. And it will start to give you confidence that you can transfer your skills in ways that you hadn’t imagined before.
- STEP TWO: Now, you have an idea of the direction. How can you leverage your existing career assets to create change?
- Re-connect to your existing network. Tap into your network –friends, colleagues, former schoolmates. There is no need to feel embarrassed or apologetic when you reach out. People enjoy helping each other. In fact, there is scientific research to back this up – it is called a helper’s high. It’s the wonderful feeling we get when we help someone else. So, just go for it!
- Weak Ties. This one is about digger a little deeper into your network. What are weak ties? These are your acquaintances, and past colleagues. These are not your closest friends or colleagues. Your weak ties are particularly important in a career pivot because your weak ties are people who know things that you don’t know and know people that you don’t know. If this whole idea gives you anxiety - use your strong ties to get new connections to your weak ties. Ask your closer friends and colleagues who they might know that could be helpful. These close ties are your cheerleaders and your champions. You never know who knows who.
- STEP THREE:
- Say YES. Think about doing some different things. Say yes when you normally would say no. Make some space to actively explore possibilities.
- Remember, one small action this week, one small action next week—all of it will snowball to create a big difference.
Just to summarize – it’s a great time to pivot, there are so many people considering it because the climate is right. Your pivot can be as minimal or as dramatic as you would like it to be. I suggest you start smaller, stay open to possibilities, work your networks, stretch your strengths, and connect the dots in new ways. Good luck on this exciting new bend and twist in your career!