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Purposeful, Powerful Pivots

career career pivot susan rietano davey

The Millennials (Gen Y) and their younger siblings, Gen Z, are shaking things up in the modern workplace, and I love it – which is a good thing, seeing as I’m mom to four of them. Not content to sit still or stay long, today’s youngest workers have seen their parents downsized and outsourced through record economic ups and downs. Adding insult to injury, the oldest of them graduated college during the Great Recession with big college loans to pay back and few job prospects. In response, these 20-40-year-olds don’t expect or seek job security. Rather, as a population, they place a high premium on mental and physical wellness, freedom (of time and place), and personal and professional growth.

As a result, Gen Y and Z employees are making early and frequent career pivots. In fact, research suggests that today’s youngest workers will have as many as eighteen employers and seven unique careers in their lifetime – something unimaginable, and perhaps even unconscionable, to some of you reading this. Selfishly speaking, however, it’s a great thing for you and me because it gives us permission to consider career changes ourselves.

I’ve long been shocked at how a directive from a parent (“You’re good at math, so you should become an accountant”) or a random conversation with a college advisor (“You’ll never make money with a Dendrology degree, switch to Economics”) can lead to a thirty- or forty- year career. But that’s the way it was for generations of us. We chose a path at twenty, got on the rung of a ladder, and started climbing up until we stepped off into retirement – all with little thought or reflection.

What if we had thought about it?

What if you reflected on your career choice through the lens of the older, wiser adult you are today? You might decide that the career your father or advisor thought was best for you isn’t – or isn’t any more, at least – and you’d be ripe for a career pivot.

Like all things, there is a right and wrong reason to make a career pivot. These guidelines will help you determine if now is the time for you to change careers:

The Wrong Reasons to Make a Career Pivot:

  • Your work environment is “toxic”
  • You have a bad boss
  • You’re being underpaid 
  • You’re being overlooked for promotions
  • You’re burned out

Any one of these situations can make you miserable at work, and any one of them is good reason to make a change – but not necessarily a career change. Finding a new employer or even just switching departments can be a fix for the first two – and the second two need exploring: Have you made the case and asked for more money? Have you met with management to learn why you haven’t been chosen for promotion and what skills/experience you need to master to be chosen next time? If you don’t get at the root of these problems, they’ll follow you wherever you go.

Just because things are bad at work does not mean you are in the wrong career.

The Right Reasons to Make a Career Pivot:

  • You seek new challenges that cannot be met in your current role
  • Your professional priorities and goals have shifted, and your work no longer fulfills you
  • You are at a point in life where you want and can pursue more meaningful work or mission-based work or a creative pursuit or that “dream job” you passed up for something more stable

These reasons get at the heart of your professional role, not your organization, team, or boss. They focus on the work not the context, history, or relationships. Here’s a question to ask yourself if you’re still unsure whether a career pivot is right for you: If you were part of a fabulous workplace and team, with generous pay and recognition, would you still feel dissatisfied? If so, it’s because the work no longer fits or fulfills you – and this is the right time to make a career pivot. But how?

Most people start out by sprucing up an old resume with new key words and submitting it via job boards. This is a complete and utter waste of time because your chances of merely getting an interview this way are <10%. Rather, invest your valuable (and limited) time in following these steps.

How to Execute Your Career Pivot

  1. Take inventory of your professional, skills, experience, and expertise with a focus on what is transferrable to the new career you’re considering.
  2. Review your professional priorities: what do you want/need to get out of work now?
  3. Explore new career ideas and options by doing research online and, much more importantly, talking with real people to ask them specific questions about their work, its pluses and minuses, what at typical day looks like, etc.
  4. Assess what you learn about these new career possibilities by asking:
    1. Do my skills and expertise transfer well to this new field or role? Am I a good fit for it?
    2. Does this new role suit my priorities and goals? Is it a good fit for me?
  5. Network to find human connections who can get you in front of team leaders, recruiters or hiring managers. LinkedIn is a great tool as a starting point. Avoid ATS but, when it’s a requirement, combine it with networking for a human referral.

Our work lives are naturally extending as our life expectancies and healthy living years extend. Working into our seventies and eighties no longer sounds absurd. In fact, working longer and later to keep our brains active and our accounts full makes perfect sense – but staying stuck in jobs that no longer interest or challenge us does not. And we don’t have to anymore now that career pivots are an acceptable and even expected part of the workplace paradigm.


We can thank the millennials for that ๐Ÿ˜‰

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