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The Big Pivot: What To Ask Yourself Before You Change Careers

The 4 questions that will help you make the leap—and land smoothly on the other side.

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Economic uncertainty has a way of accelerating decisions about our careers. 

During a crisis, some people are forced into a career pivot because of layoffs in their industry. Others may reconsider whether they truly align with the work they’re doing. And for some, with everything in flux, now seems like as good a time as any to pursue an old passion.

If you fall into one of those categories—or you have entirely different reasons for changing careers—know that you can achieve your goal. It may seem difficult, but I’ve coached thousands of job seekers over the years, and I’ve seen countless people pull off a complete career change. 

If you’ve got questions, you’re not alone. That’s why I’ve done my best to help you answer three of the most common questions I hear from career changers—along with one more I think everyone could benefit from asking themselves. 

1. What industry should I enter?

Some people know exactly what they would do if they had another shot at it. They have a passion they’ve been cultivating on their own for years, and they’re ready to put those skills to work.

If the choice of a new career isn’t as cut and dried for you, don’t worry. But figuring it out will entail some reflection on what you like to do and how you like to work—as well as quite a bit of research.

That’s because this is a tricky period for making large generalizations about the future of different industries. After all, thousands of healthcare workers have been laid off—in the midst of a pandemic, no less—because nonessential surgeries and care have been suspended. Does that make healthcare a bad field to go into? Probably not. The industry overall has been growing, and is expected to continue to grow as the U.S. population ages.

The point is that you should carefully research trends that were happening before COVID-19, as well as how the industry has been impacted by the pandemic. 

2. What can I use to help jumpstart my search?

Your network is the most powerful tool you have for finding a job in a new field. 

Spread the news of your pivot far and wide. Friends, family, former colleagues, alumni associations—they’re all potential sources of someone who knows someone. If you’re still employed, you may have to be more careful about announcing your intentions. But if you’re unemployed, use social media like LinkedIn to spread your career announcement. 

The reason for aggressively spreading the word is simple—most job openings are never publicized. And even when they are, a referral is the most effective way to get hired quickly.

Plus, when you’re moving into a new industry—where you may have less experience—having someone vouch for you is more important than ever. 

3. How do I get the skills I need for a new industry?

To make the leap as easy as possible, you should also spend time acquiring industry- or career-specific skills. There are a number of ways you can do this without going through the costly and time-consuming process of grad school. 

  • Online courses and training. This is arguably the best time to get an online tutorial in a new skill. Companies and schools are offering tons of options for training for free or at heavily discounted rates. Whatever you want to learn, now’s the time to follow through and take that course.
  • Freelancing. The best way to learn something is by actually doing it. Once you’ve learned the basics of a new skill—or if you just want to sharpen an old one—then try offering your services on a freelance basis. The best part is, you’ll actually get paid for your time.
  • Bootcamps. People often think of bootcamps as primarily for learning to code, but they exist in other fields like marketing, as well. Shorter and less expensive than a new degree, bootcamps can help you learn industry skills relatively quickly. 
  • A personal project. If you’ve had something on the backburner for awhile—an app, a blog, a podcast idea, some cool designs—then now is the time to go all-in and bring that project to fruition. Your passion for the work will shine through, and it’ll help you stand out in a crowded field of applicants. 

And finally, there’s one question that doesn’t always get asked, even though it should:

4. Do I need an industry change or a change in the way I work?

Sometimes, people who feel they desperately need to get out of their current industry or career path don’t actually need to start all over. 

Instead of getting into a new field entirely, they just need to change the way they work. 

So, instead of working a 9-5 in a corporate environment, they might find more satisfaction performing similar work as a consultant, freelancing for several companies and gaining more autonomy over their work. 

Ask yourself whether it’s the work you’re doing that has you considering a career change—or if it’s the environment you perform that work in. Maybe there’s a way to keep using the knowledge and skill set you’ve built up, but in a different setting. 

But if you feel it’s necessary to make a change, don’t hesitate. Plan your leap carefully, and you’ll have a better chance of landing on your feet on the other side. 

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