How to successfully pivot your career

May 11, 2020
Everyone  has a point in their career journey that gives them pause to contemplate the next phase or direction. Sometimes that means turning your career on its axis slightly and heading off in a different direction. This requires you to take stock of the things you are good at and the aspects of your job that you enjoy and ultimately where you see yourself in the years ahead. 

We are now living in an age where staying in the one type of job is not the norm any more and it’s perfectly acceptable to set sail in a different direction on occasion. Like when Chandler and Ross were carrying the sofa up the stairs in Friends a “pivot” can be frustrating and difficult if forced but not necessarily something to fear. It can in fact be exhilarating, exciting and if planned correctly, energising and rewarding.  

My personal journey: a 10-year pivot from IT to recruitment via ACA

My  personal journey includes a few career changes to date so I can speak from experience having spent ten years as an IT professional with a global technology PLC. I then retrained as an ACA in a four-partner practice. After five years of auditing clients I realised I had soft skills that would serve me better in a different direction and the sales-oriented world of recruitment beckoned. Here I eventually found a suitable fit that I really enjoy. Sometimes a few steps are necessary to find what's suitable for you, a bit like a hermit crab trying different shell types. As I look back, an informal pattern has emerged in how I orchestrated these various turns in my professional life. Along the way, I have been fortunate to have several excellent mentors whose advice at key moments saved me from making inappropriate decisions.

OK, so what is a pivot and how do I do it?

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

On occasion a career pivot can mean making a hybrid jump or a move to a role that is a ‘halfway step’ to your ideal position. Equally you may need to compromise on some things like changing your location or being flexible in relation to salary; assess whether these compromises are feasible for you. 

When making a career shift you need to be mindful of the current market. It is also important to research constantly so that you can be aware of the potential future employment market as these will influence the scope of opportunity for you and how easy it will be to make the switch in a particular direction. Timing can be everything! Don’t delay and definitely don’t get stuck in your comfort zone as you are then effectively going backwards.

Nine key considerations in your successful career transition process

  1. Assess yourself – know what drives you and your key strengths in detail. Your likes, dislikes, passions. What do you enjoy?
  2. Make a list of new but related directions to explore. 
  3. Research and explore each path on your list.
  4. Continue refining your list - treat it as an ongoing project. 
  5. Have information-gathering meetings and chats. Make new connections – expand your network to reflect the direction you want your career to now go in.
  6. Set your goals clearly defining the pathway to success.
  7. Write a career action plan detailing your projected steps in the transition process. 
  8. Upskill for your new career path – assess what skills you will now need to the next phase of your career. Look at job specification online and LinkedIn profiles. The Chartered Accountants Ireland ‘Career Pathway’ tool can also assist with this process.
  9. Hone your project-planning skills – treat this like a project and execute accordingly. Put a structure around this process and take it step by step. Breaking the process down into steps will make it more manageable and psychologically less of a challenge.
To come out of your decision-making process with complete clarity, you must be targeted in prioritising what is most important to you and equally pointed in the level of honesty you bring to that process. 

Build your network directly with hiring managers and key decision makers. Middlemen are great but sometimes building your own connectivity to the right people for your path is essential. As networking expert Kingsley Aikins said at the ICAI annual conference in 2019 - “the important thing about networking isn’t who you know, it’s “who knows you”. If your track record of performance is very strong then you are going to fit into a lot of people’s plans. The only question that really matters however is whether or not they fit into yours!”

Mentors will be invaluable as you make decisions around a career pivot. One of my mentors once told me “Try it! – if it doesn’t work out what’s the worst that can happen!? It will at least be an experience you can bank.” He was so right. Don’t fear it – go for it if it feels right!

In some circumstances you may need to take a step backwards to go forwards - you may need to retrain slightly or take a reduced salary. If you are taking a lower salary level be clear about the level of the role you are going into and assess how quickly you can advance in this new role. 

Know where the goal lies

Remember that ultimately, the best role for you lies at the point where passion meets competence and this meets an organisational need. If you have passion and competence but there’s no need, you’ll find yourself underemployed. Should you have the competence and there’s a need but you’re not passionate, chances are you’ll be pretty bored. And if you have passion and there’s an organisational need but you’re not competent in that area, then you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Lean your ladder against the right wall – look to see where opportunities are coming up and where they align with your skills and passion. For example if Sustainability is a huge topic for you then focus on finding the right role in that area or if the Tech Sector is a sector you love, then make sure that’s your clear focus. 

Final tips to get you over the line

Finally, be clear on your why. Know your rationale for this pivot and be able to articulate it well in logical short story form at interview. Also be able to explain and outline in detail the skills and competencies you can bring to your new role and how they will transition well. Also have examples ready of how you have successfully transitioned into new roles and areas in the past.

Remember your past doesn’t have to define your future.

Back yourself!! Believe in yourself and then go for it!

Dave Riordan (FCA)

Dave Riordan is a Career Coach and Recruitment Specialist in the Members team and is always happy to help members in any aspect of their career development at any stage of that career - pivoting or not. Dave can be contacted here.