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How to Plan a Successful Career Pivot

Sometimes, the career you loved (or found yourself in) just isn’t working out anymore. You thought it would be more fulfilling or have better prospects, and unfortunately it just doesn’t. Or it’s a great career that you’re ready to move on from. There could be a million reasons why a career is no longer a fit for you. Regardless of the reason, when that moment hits you, chances are it’s time for a career pivot. 

Pivoting your career is not as difficult as you might think. It sounds like a big, crazy change, but the reality is there’s a formula to it and a lot of career pivot strategies you can try. 

So if you’re thinking about making a career pivot but you aren’t sure what that might mean for you or what strategies to try, keep reading – that’s what this article is all about. 

What is a career pivot? 

It’s easy to get lost looking for the meaning of “career pivot.” It could mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. 

Put simply, a career pivot means that you’re changing something fundamental about your career. This could be the:

  • Industry you work in.
  • Skill sets / role you have on a day-to-day basis. 
  • Geography where you work. 
  • Move toward remote work if you’ve had a career onsite / in an office. 
  • Size of the company. 
  • Structure of the company. 
  • Move to entrepreneurship

This list is not exhaustive, but it provides the general meaning behind a career pivot. You’re intending to make meaningful change that will give you a very different work experience. The key to remember, though, is that a career pivot does not require you to change everything about your career all at once. Sometimes that’s the best possible option for someone, but not always. You’ll want to know the reasons behind your career pivot before making that decision. 

Diagnosing why you want a change

After understanding what a career pivot is, you’ll need to understand why you want to pivot. This isn’t just about feeling angry, uncomfortable, or ready for a new adventure. This is about the underlying causes of those feelings. 

If you can’t identify what’s causing you to want a change or career pivot, you’re setting yourself up for failure:

  • You might change the wrong thing. 
  • You might stress over the wrong options. 
  • You might look for the wrong adventures. 
  • You might not get the change you really want. 

In order for a career pivot to be successful, you need to know where you’re going. That requires knowing what you’re leaving and, by extension, what you need in order to solve a problem or fill a need for adventure. 

Diagnosing why you want a career pivot requires two lists: 

1 – A love / hate list: Write down everything you love about your current career situation and then everything you hate. Make it as comprehensive as possible, covering everything from salary to working hours to coworkers and more. 

2 – An “I want their life” list: Take stock of people you follow online, blogs you read, stories you see – and write down all the people whose lives you think you would love. See an executive you admire? Write down their name. Love a blog about remote work? Write that down too. 

These two lists should give you clarity on the root causes behind wanting to leave your current position and some insight into what kinds of roles or career pivot strategies will help you best solve the problem. 

Career pivot strategies

The best career pivot strategies are tied to what you want to change. So when you’re looking for the right strategy, take the approach of solving your biggest pain points first. 

Here’s what you do: 

Step 1: Take your “hate” list and categorize the things you hate into the definitions of what a career pivot is (industries, company sizes, remote work, etc. – from section one of this article). 

Step 2: Take your “love” list and categorize those items as well. 

Step 3: Identify which categories have the most “hate” items in them and which have the most “love”. Chances are that’s a good way to strategize your next move. 

For example: 

  • You hate having tons of coworkers and love doing deep work to yourself → You might want to pivot into a small, all-remote startup. 
  • You hate doing sales all day but love helping clients → You might want to move into customer success or customer service roles. 
  • You hate the office but love coming up with new ideas → You might be ready for entrepreneurship. 

These examples won’t solve all your problems (and there are a lot of additional factors to consider such as if you’re financially able to leave your job for a new opportunity or to start a business), but this step will help you identify the kinds of strategies that work for you. 

Take action

Once you know what’s lacking in your career, why you want to pivot, and what strategies might work for you, it’s time to take action. 

The biggest step here is to make sure you put in a few safety nets. For example: 

  • Don’t quit your job unless you have your next one lined up. 
  • Don’t brag about your pivot before you’ve made the move. 
  • Ask for help along the way from trusted advisors. 
  • Save for an emergency fund just in case there’s some time between leaving your job and making money, whether at your next job or your business. 
  • Learn as much as you can about what you’re heading towards so you can hit the ground running. 

A career pivot is a big step in someone’s professional life, especially if you’re making a huge move like switching multiple variables (industry, size, scope, type of company) all at once. However, it can also be incredibly rewarding. If you know you’re ready for a change, taking action can feel amazing – even on the days when it sucks. 

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