Over the course of my business career, I’ve been an architect, professor, executive with a team of over 4,000 people, and a startup founder. For me, knowing when to make a career pivot is a simple equation. Do I feel excited to jump out of bed in the morning or not? If a higher percentage of day in my everyday life results in dissatisfaction and there’s a continual pattern, that’s a sign that it’s time to explore what else is out there.
These are my top tips for navigating a career pivot and taking a bold risk that lands you in a more fulfilling job:
It's often much easier for us to identify what we’re running away from than to identify where we want to go—and that's absolutely ok. First and foremost, identify if it's the context or if it’s the tasks that are problematic. For example, do you not like the company itself, your manager or leadership, the industry? Or do you not like being a lawyer?
Maybe you're drained all the time—you're introverted and you're being asked to do extroverted activities or vice versa. What emotions come up when you reflect? Question the root cause of how you're feeling. It can be scary to think about leaving a comfortable job. Understanding those triggers and having self-awareness about your work style are key to making a change. Here’s a quiz on our website that might be a helpful resource in figuring out what energizes you and what’s more challenging for you.
It can be hard to figure out what career you want. What does an awesome day at work look like? When you have had complete control over your time, what activities did you gravitate towards? Did you make ceramics? Did you learn to code? What were those things and which ones would you be excited about connecting to your livelihood? Our interests may not be the same as when we were younger, but it can be helpful to look back and think about what you enjoyed doing as a child—what you dreamed about doing one day.
Take steps to explore these options by setting up informational interviews or engaging in self-directed projects to make sure it’s actually a path you want to pursue. Introspection is key to tapping into the areas that energize and inspire you—and ultimately to job satisfaction. It's ok if you don't want to pursue your personal passions professionally; there's no rule that says your interest have to align 100%.
Usually, these gaps can be identified as knowledge (facts and information), skills (learned abilities), and experience (proof of your abilities). Whether you're brushing up on an existing ability or learning a new technology entirely, most of these gaps can be filled in creative ways like reading books and relevant newsletters, taking a course, getting a professional certification, volunteering, or building a project for your portfolio.
If you're a social media marketing manager, create an account on a platform like TikTok or Instagram and grow it from 0 followers; if you're a designer, pursue your curiosity and bring an interest of yours to the forefront as part of your portfolio. Taking the initiative to pursue education, whether free or paid, is always a good idea. Don’t wait for a job offer from a company that’s willing to train you on everything you need to know, because that job offer won’t come. You need to show an organization you're applying to that you’ve proactively taken steps to address those gaps.
Now that you’ve started to fill some of the possible gaps, start to build your resume combining your new and existing skills to align with your chosen career path. Consider how you can recontextualize a past achievement in a way that overlaps with what a recruiter is looking for. Employers won’t assume that your skills are transferable—you must repackage yourself! If you're a product manager who's looking to pivot into product marketing, it's up to you to show how your past experience can apply.
Look at job descriptions to identify the most frequently used keywords; those are the company telling you the required qualifications they're looking for in a candidate—you have a choice about how to present yourself with confidence as the most qualified applicant. Let the keywords serve as a guideline and ensure they appear in the top half of your resume. Teal makes a free Job Tracker that identifies the main words in the job description that you'll also want to incorporate into your resume.
The process of managing a career shift is entirely up to you. Very rarely does some external force come about to make it happen. It's important to have a strategy in place to help guide the process. Set actionable, time-bound goals for your job search and all the steps leading up to it. Block out time every day, even if it’s just 15 minutes, or carve out a longer period of time on the weekends if that's better for your schedule, ensuring you take breaks occasionally.
Relying on motivation to update your resume is dangerous; instead, make the job search a habit—part of your regular routine. We've put together a helpful template for planning out your career shift. It may be out of your comfort zone at first, but inch by inch, you will build momentum for your career shift and start to see the outcomes you’re looking for.