Career Pivot: 8 Steps to Change Careers Successfully

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k

Last year, I left my job as a marketing manager at a Big 5 publishing house to become a full-time freelance content writer and editor. I had been building a client base for some time, and the decision to leave the industry after working in it for my entire career was exciting, while also extremely scary.

People make career pivots for many different reasons. Perhaps they’re feeling disenfranchised with their current job or field due to changes in the industry. Maybe there’s something they’ve always wanted to do but for whatever reason haven’t felt like it’s the right time. Or their personal feelings have evolved. 

Changing course can feel overwhelming, but it can be done. If you’re contemplating a shift in career, here are some factors to consider, along with steps to take toward realizing your goal.

What Is a Career Pivot?

A career pivot is a purposeful change of direction into a new position, field, or industry. While it is sometimes used interchangeably with career change, a pivot usually isn’t a complete transformation; instead, it takes into account the skills, experiences, accomplishments, and knowledge you’ve gained in your professional life thus far and applies them to a new course. 

How to Make a Career Pivot

Now you’re probably wondering, “How can I make my career change successful?” Here’s how to get started.

1. Consider your motivations and current situation.

If you hate your current job, that’s probably not enough reason to make an entire career change. It may just be that you need a new job elsewhere. 

Think about why you dislike your job. Is it the role? The people? The environment? If you’ve been in your position for a long time and know it’s the work, not the company, then it may be time to consider looking toward something new. 

You should take some time to really reflect on what’s going wrong and what’s going right. The “right” part is just as important as the “wrong” part, because it will help you know what you might want in a new career. It’s a good idea to write down your likes and dislikes, too. 

Whatever your motivation is, even if you’re happy with your current job but just want a change, it’s important to understand what’s driving you to make that change before you actually do it. This will help you understand what might be more fulfilling work and find something you really love.

2. Make a list of your strengths, skills, beliefs, and other qualities.

Write down your top skills, favorite activities, and other attributes. You should account for soft skills like strong work ethic and communication, along with hard and technical skills. This exercise will help you understand what you might be able to transfer to another career and figure out what lines of work are appropriate.

You should also make note of what you like to do, even if it’s not directly related to a career. Again, this can help you identify other paths. After all, you don’t want to make a career pivot only to find that you hate your new work.

3. Create a picture of your dream job.

Think about what your ideal job looks like, even if you think it’s outside the realm of possibility. Right now, you should only be thinking about what you want, not the skills or education you’ll need to have to get there.

If you have no idea, do some research into jobs that require the strengths you have, as per #2. You can look online, as well as talk to friends and acquaintances about possible careers. Consider speaking with a career counselor if you’re having trouble figuring out the right path.

Ultimately, before you make a career change, you’ll need to have a clear idea of what you want to do. 

4. Create a plan.

Once you know where you want to go, determine the steps you’ll need to take to get there. Make a concrete action plan for acquiring necessary skills, education you might need, connections to forge, and anything else that will be essential for achieving your goal.

Break down large accomplishments into manageable components, so you can check off steps along the way and feel like you’re making headway. For example, if you need to obtain a specific certification, you might break it down into assignments you need to produce or hours you must complete.

5. Gain the additional skills and knowledge you’ll need.

Once you have a plan outlined, you’ll need to build up the necessary skills and knowledge for your dream job. This might involve taking courses, acquiring certifications, and more. Identify what’s necessary for your career change. You may not even need to do anything significant.

6. Network with professionals who have the job you want.

Networking is important for any job, and for a career pivot, it’s essential. Don’t know where to start? Try:

• Going on informational interviews.

• Reaching out to people you admire in the field.

• Connecting with industry professionals on LinkedIn.

• Telling anyone and everyone you know about what you want to do. 

7. Test drive your new career.

Before you fully invest in a new path, try smaller-scale gigs to ensure that this is the career you want. Look for freelance projects that you can take on while still working at your full-time job. Consider volunteer activities in a related field, too. Mid-career internships can also be a helpful step in changing directions as well. If you know someone who works in your desired career, ask if you can shadow her.

8. Give your professional brand a refresh.

If you want to hit the reset button, you need to make it obvious to others in your professional network that you’re looking for a change. You can do this by highlighting your more relevant experiences on LinkedIn and your resume, as well as tailoring your headline and cover letter toward what you’re looking to do, as opposed to what you’re doing now. 

This might mean you need to cull some of your hard-earned achievements from the materials you present to prospective employers. They might just not be relevant and will confuse recruiters and hiring managers.


• Is it too late to change careers at 35?

While it’s never impossible to change careers, you shouldn’t underestimate the work and gumption it will require to do so. You’ll experience plenty of setbacks and rejections, but if you’re really motivated to make the change, you will (hopefully) find that it’s well worth the risk.

• What is a career advancer?

Career advancement can describe moving upward in the same career path as well as shifting direction but still moving forward in a different one. A career change is a form of advancement because it allows you to get closer toward your ultimate goals, as opposed to stagnating in your current career.

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