Thinking of a Career Pivot? Here’s How to Be Ready to Change Direction.

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The word “pivot” may get overused in certain tech/VC/business circles, but it’s useful shorthand, nonetheless, for describing how companies shift direction in response to changing conditions. Typically, a pivot isn’t something undertaken as a curious experiment but is, in fact, a business imperative for survival.

Individuals can also hit junctures in their careers where they may need to pivot, and it can be scary if you haven’t planned for it. The alternative is staying the course and hoping you can hang on for a while, but that’s a pretty risky way to go. But, how do you know when it’s time to pivot and then how do you actually do it?

Signals that it’s pivot time

If any of the following feel familiar, you should think ahead to your next move.

Your job has changed in a fundamental way.
If you’re being asked to take on responsibilities you don’t want that move you away from the work you really enjoy, try to be open to the possibility this could be an unexpected blessing, opening new opportunities to learn and grow. However, if these changes are taking you off your desired career path, it may be harder to get back on track the longer you wait.

Your skills are losing value or relevance.
Whether it’s just your current employer who feels this way or a trend in your industry, this is a big red flag. At the very minimum, you need to put in the effort to bring your skills up to date. If it’s more that your skills are no longer much in demand anywhere — due to automation, a shift in your industry, etc. — a bigger overhaul may be called for.

You feel restless/unhappy/bored.
Sooner or later, you’re likely to hit peak burnout. Rather than being caught in that moment to figure out where to redirect your energy, start thinking about it now. Identify events or experiences where you achieved concrete results or solved a problem and felt a sense of pride and satisfaction that had a lasting impact on you. Thinking about that type of work may reignite your passion and excitement and help you focus on a new future. Plus, it’s easier to come up with a plan when you’re not completely drained and sick of what you’re doing.

You’re feeling vulnerable.
If you can see the writing on the wall (your job is in jeopardy, your company is in trouble, etc.), don’t just keep your head down and hope it’ll pass. Get your house in order now, so you’re ready to act.

Preparing for a successful pivot

The modern workplace is an environment of constant change. The worst thing you can do is only play defense. Instead, use these strategies so you’re not caught unprepared.

Never stop learning.
We’ve been saying this for years (and many others are joining the chorus). Always look beyond your strict job function and monitor how the market is moving in your industry to ensure you don’t fall behind. It also doesn’t hurt to scan descriptions of intriguing jobs to see where you should strengthen your skills or may have a gap. In addition to maintaining your technical skills, be sure to continue developing the soft skills that will help you stand out and grow into an effective manager and leader.

Keep your profiles up to date.
Make sure your resume, website/portfolio and online profile pages reflect all of your skills and show how you’re keeping those skills current by listing courses and training you’ve been pursuing. Employers want to hire lifelong learners, so don’t be shy about promoting your accomplishments and growth mindset.

Stay connected to your network.
It’s great to have thousands of LinkedIn connections, but when was the last time you had meaningful interactions with them? Don’t just get in touch when you need something from people. Grab coffee or drop a note to your most valuable contacts occasionally to see what they’re up to and if there’s something you can offer them. If you stay in touch while you’re still fairly comfortable in your current job, it will be far less awkward and self-serving to ask them for career help later.

Have a side passion project.
Even if you don’t earn any money, it’s really helpful to be involved in side project or business you can show off. First off, you’ll look like an interesting, well-rounded go-getter who works hard at something you love. Second, you might even be able to use it as a fallback if you do find yourself between gigs and want recruiters to see you’re not sitting idle.

Change is hard, but change is also inevitable. Given that truth, it’s better to tackle it head-on and be prepared to adjust as needed. Preparation will help you pivot on your terms, instead of floating wherever the waves of change take you.

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