I made my first career pivot when I was 19 and an undergraduate student. While I was not technically in the professional workforce yet, I consider college to be an important time of career preparation. In this case, I transferred universities and changed majors after realizing that a design degree from a small, private school did not translate to the type of career and lifestyle that I wanted. Instead, I decided to attend a more affordable, state school (Miami of Ohio) and major in business. At the advice of a professor whom I respected, I narrowed that further and focused on two of the most technical business majors available while maintaining the ability to graduate in four years.
A couple years later, in 2009 when the recession hit consulting particularly hard and I found myself in the job market, I pivoted again. This time, I took stock of what I wanted to do and what I was interested in, though it was difficult to decide. Should I find a job in consumer products, where I always thought I would work? Or in healthcare, where I’d developed an interest through my consulting work? Or, would I be better served going to business school or law school, with the hope that the economy would pick up over the next two or three years?
My indecision led me to meet with a lot of people in the healthcare, retail, CPG, and legal fields. I networked with people in retail/consumer goods and healthcare, and connected with friends who were in business and law school full-time. I learned about the reality of each person’s life - the good and the bad, the opportunities and the limitations. I also did quite of bit of research on job availability, growth predictions, and how “recession-proof” each industry was, hoping to avoid a similar fate in the future.
As I considered these different options, I realized that many entry to mid-level roles had similar skills and competencies regardless of the industry. Companies wanted people who were proactive problem solvers, hard workers who took initiative, curious and interested in learning, and excellent communicators. As I continued with my job search, I started to focus on how I had completed the tasks and the results to showcase my competencies and soft skills rather than what I had accomplished or knew about a particular industry.
After hiring over 100 people, I’ve witnessed the value of hiring people based on competencies and cultural fit rather than their direct experience. When I interview someone, I focus less on their specific ability to demonstrate that they have previously done the functional job tasks and more on their competency and fit for the role. While this varies by position, and some specialized fields require extensive knowledge and training in niche areas, many companies can benefit and thrive from bringing together people who have a diverse background of ideas and experiences that they can use and apply toward their current position.
Whether you are pivoting to pursue a passion or trying to shift to a new industry or functional area, using a few techniques can help others see you as the perfect fit:
Focus on your accomplishments and the how behind them. Interviewers will often assess your competencies by asking behavioral based questions - the ones that start with “tell me about a time…”. Your response should tell a story, starting with the situation, the actions you took, and what you accomplished (Situation, Actions, Accomplishments). Even if the question is not framed as a behavioral question, you can use this framework to respond to many interview questions and highlight the results you are most proud of. Using this framework also allows you to focus on how you went about your job (the Action portion). While accomplishing things is important, your interviewers will want to understand how you approached situations in the past, as this is the best predictor of future behavior. For example, if you used a logical, thoughtful approach to solving a problem in your finance role, it’s reasonable that you would take a similar approach in a supply chain job.
Research and learn. While I still consider myself a young professional (and I am a Millenial), I can also remember the pre-internet days of researching in the card catalog at the public library. It was challenging to find information about a company or learn about a new industry. Today, with information at our fingertips, there is no excuse to not read and review as much information about your dream company, job, or industry as possible. Learn about the major competitors in the industry, listen to thought leaders on a podcast, pick up trade magazines, and subscribe to news aggregators or alerts. Interviewers will be impressed with your initiative and capacity to learn, and will assume that you can bring these skills to your job as well.
Remember the basics. If you are trying to pivot, you may be at a disadvantage compared to other candidates with direct experience. Make sure you have an error-free resume and cover letter to demonstrate your attention to detail, and send thank you notes within 24 hours of an interview. Check out my job search toolkit here for resume and cover letter templates.
Volunteer or work a part-time job in the field of your choosing. If you are struggling to shift from finance to marketing or construction to healthcare, for example, scout out opportunities to volunteer for non-profit organizations that need help in marketing or at a local hospital. It allows you to gain some experience in a low-pressure environment, supports a local nonprofit or community organization, and shows your initiative to prospective employers. You may even find some networking opportunities as well.
Ask for informational interviews. When I went through my job search in 2009, I had plenty of available time to network and meet with people. The need to find a job usurped any shyness that lingered from childhood, and i found myself talking to people and making connections in a way I never had before. One thing I would ask for in these conversations was an informational interview with that person, or perhaps someone they knew. In an informational interview, you are learning by asking the other person questions about their career and their company. It is not a job interview, though if you position yourself well and if the company has jobs available, it could lead to one. Informational interviews are an excellent way to learn about something new, to build your network, and to show your preparation and thoughtfulness to prospective employers or individuals who can refer you to other opportunities.
Have you made a career pivot in the past? If so, what other tips would you recommend?