A Career Pivot: How to Prepare

A Career Pivot: How to Prepare

A “pivot” is defined in a startup business as “structured course correction designed to test a new fundamental hypothesis about the product, strategy, and engine of growth.” In more layman terms, this simply means changing your direction in an evolving market without detaching from core values or structure.

In many ways, I think that post-grads or young professionals can closely relate to the struggles of a startup business and especially the need to occasionally pivot and realign their career with what brings out the best results.

So, the more I hear that people want to change jobs but are scared to do so, the more I want to embed this term in your internal vocabulary so that you learn the importance of the pivot.  Like any smart business, you must be able to reassess your strategy and pivot your career to live your desired life.   Though there is always risk in career change, there are 5 key ways that can help you prepare to pivot.


1) Save money.   

Many of us are conditioned to believe that we must earn more income in order to have more money.  The truth is, when living simply and choosing our expenses wisely, we can already immensely increase our resources and opportunity.  When you save and are not tied to one company/person for all your living expenses, you have a certain freedom to explore options, invest in different areas of your life, and make even more money.  If you feel stressed by the idea of changing jobs because you don’t have any savings, take a few months to save as much money as you can.  You’ll be surprised by the simplicity of what you actually need when the opportunity cost is the freedom to change your career and work in something you truly love.

I was once an Associate auditor in San Francisco who dreamed of working in music licensing. When I realized that it would be difficult to pivot properly without quitting my job first, I spent 6 months saving as much income possible.  Yes, I sacrificed eating out, shopping, and a parking garage, but I also gained 6-months worth of living expenses so I could quit and move to Los Angeles without scraping for side-jobs, adding stress to my strategy, or asking my parents for money.  Three years later, I can confidently say that I am still reaping the rewards of saving.


2) Do your research.

If you have only been at a few companies in your life or worked with a certain amount of people, your knowledge of positions and opportunities available will only reflect that small fraction.   Doing research is the difference between running in circles or pushing forward.  Reach outside of your world as much as possible and begin to learn more about what you want to do, what is available, and what you need to do to get there.  Whether it is a position at a specific company or a completely different industry, go to the internet or bookstore and begin reading about all the key players and the language they use.  Also, reach out to your acquaintances that work in worlds different from yours, ask them for their time or advice, and begin to piece together a new understanding.  You won’t know if you don’t ask, so be mindful and polite, but also be bold and direct when reaching out to people and asking specific questions. Expand your world to include the dialogues that fill the holes of your limited experience with real-life people and information.


3) Be clear

Being clear is a big part of pivoting your career successfully.  If you are one of the bold ones, you may be seeking opportunities in a new industry or an area you don’t have experience in.  Though inside, you may feel 100% capable of learning all the requirements and skills listed on the job description, it won’t matter unless you learn to project it to the right people. When there are only a few slots available in a company or an industry, the ones who contribute and deliver like they are already selected, are the ones who get their chance at a new career.

To do this, you need to have a clear vision of what you want from this new career. Exactly how much money do you want to make and why, what kind of development and mentorship available, which skills you use on a daily basis, and in what environment? Write out or create a vision board of what this new career or job looks like for you and manifest even the smallest details in your head. Picture yourself standing tall, being confident despite having much to learn, creating relationships, and doing the work that you want to do.  When you are clear on what you want and act accordingly, you can communicate it through your words, posture, tone of voice, facial features, and energy.  No matter who you meet, this clarity will help you connect the right dots.

4) Gather your team.  

Career change is not easy.  It requires that you break away from what is familiar and to unlearn, rebuild, and put yourself up for critique.  It can tear away at your self-worth if you are not prepared with a strong team (aka support system).

Your support system must fully believe in your mission and who you want to become. Choose only those who are equally driven or open-minded about change and improvement, and can encourage you while you prepare, recruit, and transition.   At almost every career pivot I have embarked on, I have had two people who I could trust to remind me of why I started, my strengths, and the simpler things in life. Having this strong support system will fortify your determination and help you push through any challenges.


5) Find your grounding point(s)

By definition, a pivot is not a jump. You are grounding yourself on a certain recurring quality or strategy that you have tested out before and merely pivoting on it into a new space. Whether it is an industry, role, characteristic, or environment, identify what you are carrying forward. For example, you may want to change industries, but still want to work in the start-up culture you had in your previous job. Or you may want to pursue acting, but want to focus on television, which you have experience for on the business side.  Identify whatever it is that you’ve decided to keep constant and write down related main accomplishments or examples that you can share with others. These grounding points will make you relatable but show your unique perspective to a new team.

Since January, your priorities may have changed and you may be reassessing how you want to spend the rest of the year.   If you are feeling unsatisfied at your current job and want to make a seemingly drastic move, treat yourself like a business and get friendly with this idea of “pivoting”.  Preparing with these 5 points will greatly increase the chances that you can ground yourself on the right things but pursue opportunities that take your life to the next level. Good luck!

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