1. Get Curious
2. Get Acquainted
3. Get Moving
So you want to pivot your career but you don’t know where to start. I know what you are thinking… How would I, being such a young professional, have enough experience to know anything about what it is like to pivot a career? Truthfully since my early twenties I’ve pivoted my career no less than 3 times. The first time I pivoted my career was in my early twenties. I was convinced I was going to be a traveling nurse saving the world like Florence Nightengale. When I started shadowing a nurse at the beginning of nursing school I realized I had made a big mistake. Realizing that nursing was the wrong path for me was disorienting. In time I found I had an extraordinary passion and talent for fine art and sculpture. Most of my twenties I spend trying to build my career as a fine artist while serving in restaurants and working as a studio assistant in a photography and bronze studio.
Eventually I realized how much joy I experienced from collaborating with others in a strategic manner. The problem was that a career as a fine artist involves many hours alone in the studio without the alchemy of fresh ideas and constructive feedback. While you can have collaborative projects as an artist, I didn’t see ways I could use my strategic mind on a daily basis. Once again, on the cusp of my 30’s, I was confused about the direction my career was going. Eventually I found a contract job at a large well-known management consulting firm working with psychometric assessments. It was fascinating work and I loved my team. I was energized by the fact that this job engaged my strength in strategic thinking and project management. Despite this I often found that I wasn’t able to use my creative capacities in the ways I wanted. In January 2020 my firm began making lay-offs to support their strategy to outsource the majority of our department. Enter COVID, which had the effect of speeding up some of these layoffs. I was let go on Valentines day of 2020. Blindsided and crushed, I felt completely unsure of which direction to take my career.
As I reflect on each one of these times in my life I see that there were usually 3 main steps I took to reorient myself and find my way as I worked to find a new direction. I hope these insights will help you as you navigate the difficult waters of pivoting your career.
- Get Curious
What are your talents? What are your hobbies? What do you excel at? What do you get excited about? What makes you feel alive?
First, I want to say I’m not going to give you a silly platitude about how you need to “follow your passion.” I hate it when people say this. I cant tell you how many times I’ve heard this stupid generic phrase. Truthfully, even now when someone asks me, “what are your passions?”, I freeze. What bothers me so much about this phrase is that, as someone who has an inquisitive mind with an incredibly diverse group of interests, my list of passions is long and ever changing. There have been things I have tried that I was certain would become passions only to realize they fell more in the realm of momentary fascinations.
Every time I found myself in a place of uncertainty about my career, instead of following whatever I thought my “passions” should be at the time I began to invest my energy exploring things that were interesting to me- things that sparked my curiosity. The human body is incredibly interesting to me and I have empathy in spades, hence nursing. Creating things with my hands, communicating ideas without words and making the world more beautiful was very appealing to me, hence my career as a fine artist. Human behavior, psychology and personalities were captivating to me, hence my career in psychometric assessment tools. In March, when thinking about which direction to take my career being newly jobless and confused after being laid off, I let these curiosities become my compass to point me toward the next step in my career. To my surprise my career in the marketing industry addresses every single one of those previous interests in some capacity. At no point in time would I have listed any of the incredibly engaging things that ended up drawing me to my career in marketing as “passions.” So, my first piece of advice to you is simply this:
Get curious about your passing interests, talents, hobbies and natural aptitudes. Take time to investigate what things you are drawn to. Don’t worry about how relevant or irrelevant they would be to a specific career path. Are there activities you could just get lost in? Are there things that you’ve done that energize you when they seem to exhaust other people? Explore and learn, let your curiosity point the way to possible career paths.
Elizabeth Gilbert and her work on what she calls the “curiosity and passion fallacy” was incredibly helpful to me. In her book, Big Magic, she talks about how passion is often inaccessible, especially when we are in places of confusion, pain or boredom. If you are reading this article looking for advice on pivoting your career, I am sure at the very least you are in a place of confusion. I advise you to take a cue from Gilbert as you begin to investigate your next big move in your career while investing in exploration of things that spark your mind…”each successive clue is another tiny little hit of curiosity. Pick each one up, unfold it, see where it leads you next. Small steps. Keep doing that, and I promise you: The curiosity will eventually lead you to the passion.”
- Get Acquainted
Are there strengths that you might not know you possess? How can you use your personality to your advantage as you pivot your career?
I cant tell you how many times I thought I would be good at a certain job or skill only to realize that my idea of my strengths and the reality of my strengths were not congruent. Over and over again I have seen that the extent of my success in a skill or career has been directly proportional to the level of my self awareness of the strengths that correlate with said skill or career. Thinking you know what you excel at and actually knowing what you excel at can be two different things. Self-awareness is so important. We all have major blind spots.
What has always helped me a lot in discovering these blind spots is taking psychometric assessments. They have helped me understand who I am and how my personality and temperament play out in how I move through the world. Ultimately, if who you are conflicts with the career you envision for yourself, it doesn’t matter how bad you want it. A career that isn’t congruent with who you are won’t be sustainable or bring you fulfillment and long-term success. We only have so many revolutions around the sun and it’s so important that we spend this time working with our higher selves and best parts of our personalities rather than working against them. Unfortunately, I have a great personal example of how working against your strengths and not acknowledging your blind spots does not serve your greater good in the end.
In my mid-20s I decided I would take a job as a administrative assistant and data entry clerk in an admissions office at a local private college. I knew I would be good at the administrative assistant side, but the data entry side I suspected I might not be very good at. My suspicions proved to be right. I was so bad at data entry it was almost laughable. I became very aware of the fact that my brain is more suited to abstract conceptual thinking rather than sequential numerical thinking. Fast forward to four months into the job and I was making more mistakes than I could count. Causing infinite numbers of problems with their data entry dinosaur of a software system. They did their best to give me a chance but I just was not well-suited for the job because of limitations in my natural aptitudes. I felt like such a failure when I chose to leave that position. It was a painful lesson for me to learn but the truth is you can’t fight against who you are. The career that works best for you has so much to do with who you are and how you move through the world. Below is a list of my favorite assessments that have helped me in discovering more about myself to point me in the direction of the right career for me.
- Strengths Finder
This particular assessment is well-known among HR professionals. If you take this assessment and can name your top strengths that correlate with any given job when you interview I guarantee you, you will have them eating out of the palm of your hand. Now I’m not saying to use these data points to manipulate interviews. However, it is important to employers to know whether or not you authentically possess the skills that are needed and the inherent qualities to have success in a future role. Nobody wants to hire someone and see them not succeed because of unforeseen personality or strength conflicts. Also important to know that when you know your strengths you can begin to look for some of these keywords in job descriptions or jobs that look interesting to you. This test will give you the knowledge to be able to get a fairly decent idea of whether or not you would actually enjoy or be a good fit for a job that you’re applying for.
Time Investment: 45 minutes
ROI: Detailed report that will help you understand your own natural talents and be able to have language to describe those talents to others. It also gives you strategies about how to manage qualities that might be considered weaknesses.
My Take: This assessment is most relevant to finding your skills that correlate to careers. This was invaluable to me when I was looking for job descriptions that suited my natural aptitudes.
- Myers-Briggs assessment
This assessment is helpful in understanding your own personality type in general. It measures and compares your personality in 4 different facets.
1. Introversion vs. Extroversion
2. Sensing vs. Intuition
3. Thinking vs. Feeling
4. Judging vs. Perceiving
This assessment is more about understanding the basics of your personality.
Cost: $49.95 or you can find free assessments online as well.
I recommend taking the paid assessment because it gives you access to development tools that can be very valuable.
Time Investment: 45 minutes
ROI: This can be huge in helping you understand what types of careers you would thrive in. For example if you understand that you are more of an introvert versus an extrovert it will be harder for you to stay and thrive in a role that involves an extensive amount of contact with the general public.
My Take: This assessment is very helpful in understanding your personality and how it may influence your career. There are many business books written about how to approach your Myers-Briggs type as you look at career development.
The Enneagram test can show you how you interpret patterns, process information and manage your emotions. This often can predict how you will respond in certain environments and situations based on your natural tendencies. It offers insights into conflict resolution, team dynamics, leadership styles, emotional intelligence and self mastery. It will help you identify and address areas of development on a deeper level than just your career.
Cost: $12 for the RHETI
Time Investment: 40 minutes
ROI: This assessment was a helpful self-awareness tool for me but wasn’t necessarily directly helpful in pointing me in the direction of a career. It did provide some helpful insights in helping me understand some areas of challenge in my life based on my natural personality tendencies. The research on the Enneagram is fascinating and extensive. I highly recommend taking this quiz even if you aren’t pivoting your career.
My Take: This assessment is just fascinating in general. I highly recommend this because it can help you understand how you be have at your best and at your worst. It is also helpful in discovering your core motivations.
- Get Moving and Keep Moving
Do you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by this process? Is it so overwhelming that you don’t even start the process? Do you feel stuck in limbo?
In March of 2020, when I found myself with a lack of motivation, I leaned into this quote for wisdom:
“Action comes before motivation. There is no lighting strike of motivation. The quickest way to get motivated is to get up and take a step forward.” -Anonymous
When I began the process of pivoting my career, to say I was overwhelmed was an understatement. Due to personal reasons I chose to disconnect and delete all my social media profiles in December of 2019, including my LinkedIn profile. When I found myself with out a job in March of 2020, not only did I have to pivot my career into a new industry but in addition I had to build my network back up from zero. I quickly realized that the momentum of motivation could only be built with forward motion no matter how small. If you are having trouble thinking about how to get moving in the direction of pivoting your career below is a list of how I created forward momentum for myself:
I broke my days up into one hour time slots. I would assign myself a task for each time slot committing to do one very small easily accomplished step per hour. Each step moving me closer in the direction of my desired outcome of building the skills and network to support my career pivot. When I say small an easily accomplished task, I mean small. I made sure that I was only accountable for one step per hour even if that step only took me 15 minutes to complete. Sometimes my steps were as simple a send an email or read a relevant industry article. I could always accomplish more if I wanted but this way I was intentional about not overwhelming myself so I didn’t waste time being stuck. There were definitely times when I had enough momentum to continue moving forward. Setting small goals made it easier for me to not allow myself to feel paralyzed by needing to rebuild my network and my career. Over the course of one day those 5 to 8 small steps completed hourly actually translated to real progress. Over the course of a week that daily incremental progress would deliver real results.
I scoured LinkedIn profiles for job descriptions and job titles that seemed interesting to me and reached out to those individuals to invite them to have a virtual coffee with me. I read LinkedIn articles that were relevant to the industry I was looking to enter and reached out to the authors of those articles to connect with me for a virtual coffee. I would say that 70% of the people I reached out to did not respond but the 30% that did respond were invaluable connections.
I thought about the skills I would need to make myself more attractive to hiring managers in that industry and I looked for ways to actively develop those skills. One skill I would recommend that everyone at least have a cursory knowledge of is coding. As jobs are increasingly technical it is more important that each of us is at least some what literate in the technical languages used to make the world wide web. I recommend learning the basics of HTML and CSS. There are so many free resources to learn coding.
The following websites are very reputable and are great ways to learn coding for free if you are motivated: