The 4 Most Common Mistakes People Make When Pivoting Their Careers

Making any sort of career transition can be confusing, overwhelming, uncomfortable, annoying ... even barbaric. 

Pivoting your career into an entirely new industry or role? These sorts of moves are typically in a league of their own on the 0-100 scale of difficulty.

This doesn't (in any way) mean that one should never embark upon a journey to find something more meaningful and fulfilling. No way. To the contrary. I'm all about making bold, strategic moves toward your dream job or career.

But it's important to avoid the land mines along the way. What are the most common land mines -- or mistakes -- that people make when attempting to shift into a new career?

Here are four of them:

  1. They act before they plan
    This is like the opposite side of the pendulum from "I'm just going to sit around and dream and ruminate and pine away for that career I've always wished for." If you're going to make a significant career move, you've got to build an actual execution plan and then, well, execute on it.

    But do so with care. So many people get the "shiny object syndrome" when it comes to career pivot and go racing all willy-nilly out of the gates without thinking through all of the major aspects of a big shift like this. 

    I'm certainly not suggesting that we all need 72-chapter business plans in place prior to moving an inch, but you'll certainly want to think through key skills needed, people you need to meet, what kind of support (money, people, etc.) you're going to need to pull this off, etc. 
  2. They assume it all boils down to "follow your passion"
    Oh, how weary I am of the whole "Do what you love and the money will follow!" mantra that so many people have just accepted as an unquestionable truth. Here's something interesting -- Scientific research done by a Georgetown computer scientist named Cal Newport shows that those who "follow their passions" statistically have a lower probability of finding long-term career fulfillment than those who leverage their existing career capital when making a significant career transition.

    Newport suggests -- and I firmly agree -- that you're much better off (and more likely to find long-term career fulfillment) pivoting into roles that take advantage of the career capital you've already built up over the years, and maybe drawing upon these areas of expertise in new and creative ways. His book, So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, is a brilliant read for anyone needing to understand why "follow our passion" is a faulty mantra, and how to leverage your career capital to help ensure your pivot leads to meaningful, satisfying work.
  3. They fail to shift their professional brands
    Here's a simple rule that anyone considering a big career move must embrace: The easier you make it for your target audience to "get" you, the better the odds are that they'll want to know more (and by "know more," I mean "meet you," "interview you," "hire you," or "buy stuff from you".

    If you're heading in an entirely new direction, recruiters and hiring managers aren't going to magically deduce how or why you make perfect sense for these new types of roles you're targeting. Forget about that. They won't. You've got to shift your professional brand in a way that makes it "smack in the forehead obvious" to key decision makers how and why you are a viable contender.

    Better yet, think about the ways in which your experience-to-date may, in fact, make you an even stronger candidate than someone who, perhaps, has taken a more linear route toward the same roles for which you're competing. And spell that out loud and clear in your resume, LinkedIn profile, etc.

4. They try to go it alone
When looking at a career pivot, you simply must mobilize your posse. This is no time to fly solo. Get your people on board, especially the ones you know will always have your back. And, once you've got them on board, spell out specifically what you're attempting to do, what types of people you'd like to meet or talk with, and how your clan can be most of service.

If you're a teacher trying to become a grant writer, shouting out "Hey, I am thinking about becoming a grant writer" doesn't really give people much to go on. Consider, instead, something like:

After seven years as a high school teacher, I'm working to move out of teaching and into a role as a grnt writer. My goal is to find a position that leverages my teaching background and allows me to support a nonprofit's efforts to generate funds on behalf of an education- related cause.

Here are the types of nonprofits I have in mind...... (spell out)
And here is where I could use your help (spell out)

The more clear you can be with your people, the greater the probability that they'll come through with something useful. 

We just launched the Ridiculously Awesome Career Pivot Kit. It's specifically designed for anyone embarking on a career pivot or making a major job change. (Here's the Table of Contents.)

And if you have questions about a career pivot, feel free to leave them in the comments below.


Photo: Flickr Creative Commons (Robert Couse-Baker)