The modern career trajectory is no longer the straight and narrow path from first job to retirement, but increasingly features a number of detours and pivots. The pandemic and the shift to remote work have helped to further disrupt the job market and push people to re-examine their priorities and consider whether now might be a good time to make a career change.
In July of this year alone, nearly 4 million people quit their jobs in the US, according to the US Labor Department, signalling a widespread desire to shake things up.
"People are saying, 'Life is too short, I want to try more things, and I want to make sure I'm happier every single day'," said Ambika Nigam, New York-based founder and CEO of Zeit, a company that helps career shifters by providing tactical transition playbooks and new networks. "I think we should always be evolving throughout our careers and making sure we build in moments for that reflection on a quarterly basis."
As many people leave their current positions in search of new opportunities, they are leaving openings for others. This reshuffling, combined with the increase in remote work options, has made it a good time to consider a career shift, but then again, anytime can be a good time to pivot, according to Caroline Castrillon, career and life coach and founder of Corporate Escape Artist who is based in Austin, Texas.
"It's never a bad time to make a career change," Castrillon said. "A lot of times people are trying to gauge the economy, or those type of things, but ultimately, you're one person looking for one job, and we spend so much of our time at work — it's worth spending the time to find something you're really excited about."
If you're re-examining your priorities, passions, and career direction during this time of transition, try following these four steps to make a successful pivot.
Get to the root of your discontent. The first step in determining whether now is a good time to make a change is to figure out what exactly you don't like about your current situation.
Are you unhappy because you're overworked? Are you not feeling challenged or engaged? Do you want to continue working remotely? If you dread going to work every day and the status quo feels worse than the thought of change, that's when you know it's time to make a pivot, Castrillon said. However, if your discontent stems from a difficult boss or a co-worker, that might not be sufficient reason.
"You just want to make sure you're running toward something not away from something," Castrillon said. "I also tell people to think about how they felt about their job pre-COVID, because that could also be revealing. If they felt this way even before the pandemic, it could mean it's time to make a change."
If you realise your current situation is workable with a few tweaks, Castrillon recommended exhausting all internal options before making a drastic change. For example, if you want to continue working remotely, speak with your manager to see if that's possible, or if you like your current company but want a different role, inquire whether there are any lateral positions available.
Conduct a skills audit. Once you've decided to pivot, take some time to reflect on your skills, determine which parts of your current job you want to continue doing, and figure out how those skills could be valuable in a different context.
"The good thing about finance is there are so many foundational skills that can be applied to the worlds of tech, not-for-profit, and consulting," Nigam said. "Do a skills audit and reflect on the skills you have that you're actually excited about and want to continue to double down on, but maybe in a slightly different capacity."
For example, skills such as data analytics, forecasting, scaling, and other core skills many financial professionals possess are valuable in almost any industry.
"There are so many companies that could really benefit from having someone with this deep domain expertise versus someone who's been working in tech at various capacities," Nigam said. "I like to say you're going to be a two plus two is five. It's not just about being transferable, but you're really bringing a lot of added value to the table with your experience."
Craft your ideal job description. Figuring out how to pivot comes down to locating the intersection of the things you enjoy and are good at and aligning them with your values and priorities, Castrillon said.
"If your number one priority is your family, then you obviously don't want a career that's going to have you on the road half the year," she said.
Before updating your résumé or CV and beginning your job search, Castrillon recommended crafting your ideal job description.
"What I find is people are highly skilled and could fit in a lot of different positions, but not all of those positions will get you excited to go to work every day," she said.
You can start to envision your ideal job by adjusting different variables to figure out what you want to hold constant and what you want to change. Major variables might include your job title, industry, and area of expertise. For example, if you're an analyst, you could keep that job title but pivot into a different industry like tech or not-for-profit. Nigam said the easiest shift will involve adjusting just one of these variables, while the hardest would entail a complete career transformation.
Speak to people in your desired role and fill any gaps. Once you have crafted your ideal job description and have a clearer idea of how you want to pivot, it's a good idea to seek out people who have made a similar shift in order to figure out how they pulled it off and make sure it's the right move for you.
"Ask people how they got to where they are, and find out any gaps you may need to fill," Castrillon said. "Explore the areas you're interested in in a way that you can see the good, the bad, and the ugly from people who are in it."
Tap into your network, leverage platforms like LinkedIn, set up informal virtual chats, shadow someone on the job, and devour any free online content like podcasts, articles, and videos that can help give you an idea of what the day-to-day life would be like if you shifted into your desired role.
By speaking with people who do the work you want to do, you can also figure out what skills are worth acquiring in advance and what knowledge you will learn on the job. Then you might consider enrolling in an intensive online study programme, completing some self-guided learning, or perhaps even going back to school. And as you begin to make that shift, be prepared for potential rejection.
"Make sure you have the appetite and the drive," Nigam said. "We're growing toward a future where there are very nonlinear paths, but we're kind of in the early innings of this, so if you're an individual who wants to make a pivot, you have to be prepared to put in the work and find a company that is going to be a good cultural fit and open-minded, and not take it personally if it doesn't work out right away."
— Hannah Pitstick is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at Andrew.Adamek@aicpa-cima.com.