After the publication of the WSJ article about my career reboot in December 2020, a wide array of people approached me for career advice. In these conversations I learned more about career challenges people are facing, and shared my perspective on making career changes that has evolved from experience in guiding people in their career development in multiple roles. As we continue to deal with the career impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic I wanted to share my perspective (consolidated to 6 points) in case it can help others.
1. Think of your skills as lego pieces. I’ve found that people will put themselves into a career box. They think about their skills in terms of roles they’ve had (for example, “I’m an architect”), or industries they’ve worked in, which can limit what’s possible in future careers. If you want to shift your career direction it helps to think about specific skills you have and how they can be repackaged, like lego pieces, to support different job types. For the architect, they could have skills in architectural design, project management, consulting, etc.
2. Look for “a” thing you can do next, not “the” thing you’re meant to do. In careers some people think they need to find their one path, and then pursue that path in a linear, upward trajectory. This can be limiting and prevent people from seeing other meaningful paths available to them. Rather than try to find the one thing you’re meant to do, reframe your pursuit to be finding something right now that seems appealing to you and leverages skills you have. One way to break the frame of one path is to come up with three different possible careers to explore.
3. Explore what’s possible, and don’t expect a lightbulb moment. If you’re considering a career pivot, I think it can help to start by exploring the world in a variety of ways to discover new opportunities. I recommend looking at LinkedIn periodically just to learn about roles that are out there, not to apply for jobs. And I recommend getting involved in different types of activities in your life, not necessarily directly related to a career path, to rediscover what you like. While you’re in this discovery mode, be open and pay attention. I believe that new career ideas show up more as “weak signals” rather than a light bulb that goes off and shows you the way.
4. Pursue opportunities where you only know how to do 50% of the job. We know that many people self-select out of pursuing opportunities if there are too many specific requirements listed. In my experience, most people need to only know part of their job when they start, and are expected to learn some along the way. When considering new opportunities, I’d encourage you to pursue jobs where you can say:
- 50% of this job I can do for sure, no problem
- 25% of this job I can learn quickly and become competent relatively easily
- 25% of this I don’t know how to do yet, but I’ll try and get support if needed
5. If you’re a hybrid person, look for a hybrid role. People who make career pivots are sometimes what I call “hybrid people” in that they have skills or interests that enable them to pursue different roles, and the challenge here is that roles can appear more specialized. For hybrid people I recommend looking for hybrid roles, and I’ve found that those tend to show up in smaller, start-up companies where people need to wear multiple hats, or consultant roles (internal or external) which require working with a variety of people/teams across an organization.
6. Try to let go of internal and external expectations. I’ve been surprised to see how many people (including me!) will box themselves into a path because of hidden or explicit expectations. People may resist letting go of a job level or title, worry about what their peers will think, or discount looking because of their age or education. When you’re considering a career pivot, it’s important to not make assumptions about what you can, can’t, or should do. Watch for when these expectations show up, acknowledge them if/when they do, and try to put them to the side.
Good luck to all as we continue to navigate through the pandemic!