Career Pivot? How to Change to Work You Love

Woman piloting helicopter
Image from Pixabay

After surviving the 2020’s dark and twisting rollercoaster ride, many of us are ready for a change.  According to one professional women’s network, 61% of women surveyed in 2020 are planning a career pivot. If you’re one of them, welcome to the club!

Maybe you’ve realized that your job is mind-numbing, and you want something that will get you excited again.

Perhaps something changed in your personal life: your relationship couldn’t survive that much togetherness, or you want to move someplace else.

Or maybe losing someone close to you inspired the change.

For whatever reason, the job or career you had in 2019 is no longer relevant in 2021.  

A career pivot means repositioning yourself for a new world of opportunities. That’s exciting, and it’s also daunting. I’ve done it several times, and have learned to break it down into easier steps.

Where am I going?

Every journey needs a destination. It’s easy to describe what you’re running away from, and just as important to describe where you want to end up. What kind of work revs your personal engine?

If you know that you want leave teaching to become an accountant, fantastic! Figure out what titles represent the job you want. Write it all down in a clear intention statement: ‘I want to be a corporate accountant, managing the financial reporting for a mid-sized firm.’ If you have a particular industry in mind, write that down too. Setting down your intention focuses your mind.

new career choice

What if you have no idea what to do next? Then your first job is to figure that out. Make an ‘I like and am good at’ list. What do you like about working? What kind of tasks do you gravitate towards? In what culture are you most productive? Ask friends and colleagues what you are unusually good at. If you are drawn to a particular area or industry, write that down.

Writing your goal down on paper focuses your mind

Use this list to figure out your destination. Let your imagination run wild! If you’re great at organizing, love setting up parties, can manage suppliers and feel the need to stretch your creative muscles, perhaps you would love a new career as an event organizer. Whatever it is, write it down in a statement that sets your intention.

Get on trend

Now that you know your destination, make sure you have what you need for the trip. Research emerging trends in your chosen area.

Do you need training, a new degree or a particular certification? Look into local or online learning programs, and remember to check around for scholarships. Be ready to sacrifice some time and effort to improve your chances of getting that new job, even if it means staying in the old one a bit longer. Working while going to school can be tough, but it’s worth it!

If you will be relying on a certification for a skill that you haven’t used in a while, take a refresher course to make sure you are current on the latest techniques.

Reboot your resumé

Career pivots require major changes to your resumé. Rewrite it to highlight accomplishments that are relevant in your new career. That might mean repositioning the accomplishment, or replacing it with something entirely different. Research the keywords for your new position or industry, and use them appropriately in your resumé and cover letter.

I find writing a functional resumé very helpful when I pivot. In a functional resumé, you organize your accomplishments around different skill sets, then list your positions afterwards. For example, the sections in one version of my functional resumé are Business Strategy and Growth; Leadership, Influencing and Communication; and Scientific, Technical and Medical. Writing this version forced me to decide what my strongest skills really were, and to choose accomplishments highlighted them.

Boost your resume skills

Whether you reboot your resumé yourself or hire professional help, make sure that it shows your accomplishments in your best light. Your resumé and cover letter are the keys to landing an interview.

Check your checking account

As you plan your career pivot, keep your finances in mind. Know your numbers: what does a year of your life’s necessities cost? What are your discretionary? These set the baseline salary you can afford to take in your new career.

Now validate your expectations. Use, and online job listings to understand what you can reasonably expect to earn. If your expectations don’t match the salary range offered, you need to think again. Can you do this work part time and work at something else that pays the bills? Will additional training help you get a higher salary? Can you control your spending and still be happy?

A career pivot should make your life better. Driving you to financial disaster is not better.

Make your career pivot public

In my experience, this is the hardest part. Sure, everyone tells you how proud they are of you after you’ve successfully made your change. Until then, they may question your wisdom – and that can make you question it too.

Grit your teeth and do it anyway. Tell everyone you know that you are looking for roles in event management, or accounting, or a non-profit, or whatever it is.  Up to 50% of new jobs are found through friends. So tell your friends, tell your professional network, get in touch with former colleagues. Join networking events, virtual or in person where it’s safe, and meet people who are working in that area. Ask for informational interviews: no-pressure conversations where you find out what it is really like to work in a field.

Apply, apply, apply

When you shop for shoes, do you give up if the first pair doesn’t fit? Of course not! You try different stores, different styles, different designers. If you’re a size 5, like me, you probably need several trips on different days before the right shoe presents itself. Shopping for your new career is the same sort of process.

You will probably apply to many jobs before you get an offer; in some industries, each opening can pull in 250 or more applications. Make it as efficient as possible.  Set up searches that notify you when jobs in your target area come up. Then apply for them.

You don’t have to match the job 100%, or even 90, 80, or 70%. A 50-60% match is good enough. Tweak your resumé to bring out the keywords that will catch their eye and apply! The worst thing that happens is that they don’t respond – so you are no worse off than you are today. The best thing is that your resumé catches their eye, and your career pivot is underway!

No one is ever the perfect, 100% fit for a job and a culture.  Don’t hold yourself to that impossible standard.

Find work you can love

Career pivots are among life’s hardest and most freeing actions. Unchaining yourself from that familiar desk and jumping into something new is scary, but it’s worth it. You have one life. Work fills at least one third of it. Shouldn’t that be something you love?

Marne Platt

Dr. Marne Platt is the President of Fundamental Capabilities and the author of 3 books (so far): Living Singlish: Your Life, Your Way; Professional Presence; and PREP For Success. Originally a practicing veterinarian, she built a successful career in the pharmaceutical industry. She founded Fundamental Capabilities to ‘pay it forward’ by providing career development workshops and coaching for women. ‘Living Singlish: Your Life, Your Way’ is an ‘older sister in your pocket’ packed full of advice for young women on building their own independent and exciting life. 'Professional Presence' and PREP For Success' help you strengthen your spoken and unspoken communication and leadership presence.

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