Want to Change Career Paths? Here's How to Make a Pivot
Ever wondered what it would be like to swap your spreadsheets for saucepans? Or daydreamed about leaving your desk job to become a dog walker? Or wished your business card read “Pilates instructor” instead of “publicist?”
Many of us start at our first job out of college or University, thinking it will set us up for the rest of our career. And stepping off that path seems like a huge risk. When you’re on a straight and narrow career path, it’s easy to panic if you want to make a change.
The good news is that these kinds of pivots can make you a better professional. With a positive approach and an open mind, you can take big strides in the right direction—even if that direction seems way off your original course. No matter the reason you’re unsatisfied with your current career—be it boredom or burnout or something else entirely—you don’t have to stay the course. Despite what you may think, it’s totally possible to switch paths no matter how many years you’ve already been in the workforce.
Here’s some hard-earned wisdom on how to make a pivot, no matter your industry or experience level.
1. Find the path of least resistance
As you think about how to rebrand yourself, it’s key to identify points of connection. For instance, if you’re a lawyer who wants to jump into journalism, the obvious (and probably easiest) transition would be to find a job as a legal journalist.
“To change your discipline and also change your industry at the same time, it’s not necessarily setting yourself up for failure, but it’s so many more mountains to overcome,” “Find the path of least resistance so you can convince whoever is listening to you—whether it’s a recruiter or a hiring manager—that the job [change] is not actually as drastic as it may sound.”
2. Build Your Network
The deeper your network, the easier it is to find opportunities beyond your immediate field. Networking, networking, networking. You’ve heard it a thousand times before. But it’s doubly important when you’re switching career fields. Think about it: After you’ve been in a particular career for 5 or 10 years, your contacts will be brimming with mentors, colleagues, and acquaintances willing to vouch for you professionally. When you switch lanes, however, those same people may not have the insight or clout to be of much help. So how do you go about finding new allies?
Think about who might be a good resource for you in your personal and professional circles. Is there a supportive colleague who shifted careers to the industry you’re looking to enter? Make a long list.
Once you’ve got your list, it’s time to do some research. And don’t forget about your social networks. Alumni groups, online associations, and even Facebook forums are a great way to get your foot in the door. Attend industry conferences for the dual purpose of learning about your new field, as well as for making connections. And, of course, there’s always the tried-and-true coffee date. But be strategic: Talk less and listen more. “Ask good questions.
Most people are willing to talk about themselves. Absorb as many bits of information as you can and make as many connections and you can. Do that 10 to 20 times, and eventually you’re going to find someone who’s going to be your mentor or who’s going to want to keep in in touch with you. That person can be the point of contact between you and this new industry
Tip: Set a goal to reach out to one professional you admire a week. Over a phone call or coffee, talk about your aspirations and ask for their advice on how to move forward.
3. Give yourself time
Don’t expect to land your dream job overnight. In fact, expect to wait 6 to 12 months before clocking in after a complete career overhaul. Furthermore, prepare to make some financial investment in your future; conference fees, networking events, and other job-hunting expenses can all add up.
In light of this, if at all possible, do not quit your current job while hunting for a new one. (“If you’ve been miserable at your current job for the last five years what’s another six months?”) But if you just can’t stand it any longer, make sure you at least have an emergency fund in place—most financial planners recommend a minimum of six months’ worth of expenses.
4. Manage your expectations
That senior-level title? You may have to kiss it goodbye since your previous experience may not translate in the context of your switch. And a title change may bring about a salary cut, too—so be prepared.
“You don’t have the 10 years of experience in this new field, and you’re just starting out,”. “Is a salary cut a worthy investment if five or 10 years from today you’re going to be in a career that you’re proud of and enjoy?” Use your answer to that question as an indicator of how confident you can be in your decision to seek a new professional beginning.
By pivoting on your career, you bring a level of dynamism to your work. No skill or expertise is ever lost in the shuffle.
So remember: Everything you’ve learned will help you along the way, even if you’re working in a very new context.