How to Pivot Your Skillset to a Better Career
by Haley Lyles
The American workforce is on autopilot. With nearly three out of five working professionals being interested in changing careers and 23 percent of professionals feeling like they are on a "treadmill going nowhere," it's clear that career pivots are becoming a rising trend in the American workplace.
Not to mention, it's a time when unemployment rates are staggering and more people than ever are searching for a new job. Whether you're one of the 16.3 million people who've faced COVID-related unemployment or you feel stuck in your job, we cover seven steps to pivot your skillset into a better career.
What Is a Pivot?
While a career pivot helps you navigate to a different professional direction, it's important to note that it's not a move backward in your professional life. Seeing as less than 50 percent of workers feel like they have good jobs, it's clear that a pivot is something on many people's minds — the question is whether they're willing to take the leap.
Career strategist Jenny Blake explains a pivot as a "purposeful shift in a new, related direction that one makes by doubling down on what is already working." Successful pivots hone in on your transferable skills to create an overarching strategy shift in your career path.
Types of Pivots
A career pivot can be a purposeful shift in a new direction. Whether it be an eye-opening experience or an "aha!" moment in your life, what's important is that a pivot moves you in the direction you want to be. Although pivoting may require you to take a few steps backward initially, hard work and focus can help you grow your career even further.
Another type of career pivot comes from navigating an unstable job market or job loss. In the post-COVID-19 era, 18 million out of the 20.6 million total job losses are expected to be temporary. However, people are choosing to use this crisis as a time to reinvent their careers and elevate their skillsets for a post-pandemic world.
Signs a Pivot is Necessary
Remember that it's never too late for a pivot, you just need to be sure that pivoting is the right move for you. Some signs a career pivot might be necessary include:
- Feeling unengaged at work: Seeing as more than 50 percent of Americans report feeling unhappy at their jobs, it's clear that lack of interest in work is a common issue across the nation. If you're not waking up feeling excited to go to work, it might be a sign that it's time for a career pivot.
- Layoffs or downsizing: With the mass economic downturn due to COVID-19, many people have been laid off as companies have begun to downsize. If you find yourself in this position, know you are not alone. Take this time to reflect on your career and see if you want to continue on your current path or consider a pivot instead.
- Lack of job opportunities in your market: With the uncertainty of customer-facing roles, many people in this situation are considering pivoting their skills into a job that can tide them over in a post-COVID-19 world.
- Feels like a dead end: If you don't feel like you're doing meaningful work with room for advancement, it might be worth considering a career pivot — remember that it's never too late to change trajectories.
How to Make a Career Pivot
Successfully pivoting to a new career requires starting with a strategic approach. Whether you're looking to entirely overhaul your career path or make a slight shift in a new direction, here are all the steps you should follow to successfully pivot your career.
1. Evaluate Your Skills
When completing a successful career pivot, the first step is to evaluate yourself and your skillset. A good way to do this is by conducting a SWOT analysis, which looks at your internal strengths and weaknesses as well as external opportunities and threats.
You should work to understand the value you bring by digging down to the root of your strengths. Additionally, you should work to identify any knowledge gaps so you can begin filling them.
Example: A furloughed flight attendant could evaluate their skills as being experienced in CPR and customer service and find a role as an essential grocery store worker during COVID-19. This gives the flight attendant more safety/sanitary protocol training for when she goes back to work as an air hostess.
2. Lean into Your Transferable Skills
Transferable skills are the abilities you have that can be applied to several areas of your life. For example, while knowledge of a specific program may be helpful in a 9-to-5 job, a skill like time management can be applied to several career paths throughout your life.
Here are some of the most common (and valuable) transferable skills:
- Management: Seeing as 75 percent of voluntary turnover is influenced by a person's manager, it's clear that taking the time to become a skilled manager is more than worth the investment.
- Communication: Being able to listen and truly understand your team is an important transferable skill that you can take with you to every job you have.
- Time management: Whether you keep a planner or meticulously fill out your Google Calendar, time management skills are crucial to excel in any role.
- Information technology: Basic IT knowledge of programs, like Microsoft Office, is a no-brainer for many employers nowadays.
- Research and analytics: Being skilled at research is a valuable trait that shows employers you are inquisitive and forward-thinking.
Example: Airline pilot, Aaron Leventhal, used his skills in transportation and applied them by becoming a truck driver for Tesco delivering essentials during COVID.
3. Get Certified
Certifications are a great way to boost your skills and knowledge, especially during the age of COVID-19. Additionally, getting certified helps you gain credibility to employers by signaling proficiency in your specialty.
With so many free online certifications available, there's no reason not to get started on improving your career prospects. Getting certified can help elevate your resume and give you an edge above the rest from the safety of your own home.
Example: Even if you didn't go to school to study human resources, you could get a certification in project management that can give you the edge you need to successfully pivot your career.
4. Use Your Network
Networking is a crucial skill to advance your career, regardless of industry. When looking to pivot into a new career, who better to reach out to than past connections?
During a time of crisis like this, sincere networking can help you find new opportunities you hadn't previously considered. Whether you're messaging former colleagues on LinkedIn or sending a previous boss a quick email, virtual networking to find a job is gaining popularity due to the current remote nature of work — and there is no better time than now to reconnect with some old faces.
Example: Many workers in the hospitality industry don't have a timeline of being able to return to work. For someone experienced in working as a hotel maid, they could connect with old coworkers who have moved into office and administrative positions to secure a cleaning and sanitization role at local offices.
5. Cast a Wider Net
It's important to view broadening your horizons to take a different type of job as a step in a new direction, not a step backward. In a time where the 20.5 million people who lost their jobs more than double the 8.7 million job loss of the great recession, many people are expanding their options to apply for broader job descriptions they hadn't previously considered.
6. Measure Your Progress
The amount of data at your fingertips nowadays means that you can break down your milestones and set benchmarks in a way that was never possible before. Some metrics and numbers you should look at include:
- Month-over-month progress
- Financial situation (money saved vs. money earned)
- Hard deadlines to accomplish specific tasks
- Response rate to applications
A great way to kickstart this process is by setting SMART goals for yourself. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. SMART goals can help you ensure you are thinking through any goals you create and help you work backward to create a plan to get there.
Another way to measure progress is to create a spreadsheet where you write down the job you applied to, when you applied and specific details about the materials you applied with. Over time, you'll be able to look back and see measurable results of what worked and what didn't.
Example: Someone applying to an administrative assistant position could be using three cover letter templates. Over time, they would be able to tell which template resulted in the greatest response rate and most interview requests.
7. Follow Your Passion
If you're considering taking the leap to a new career path, the most important advice is something you probably already know: follow your passion. To be successful, it's important to be invested in your work and feel like you're making a difference.
You should spend time to truly understand what you like and build your personal brand to back it up. Whether you're a carpenter or a school teacher, pivoting your skillset into a career you are passionate about is a possibility for everyone — but this doesn't mean you have to drop everything you've set up for yourself.
When pivoting your skillset to change your career, it's important to be able to tell your story to recruiters effectively. Although the pandemic has been something no one could have predicted, the outlook for American jobs in a post-pandemic world is looking increasingly promising.
With such a competitive job market, it's more important than ever to be on top of your game. Whether you're a fresh college graduate or a seasoned professional, you should be prepared with a great resume — you never know when you could find the perfect position for your skillset.